3/07/2019

"Oenone" by Tennyson: mythology and legend in it.


The source of Tennyson's poem “The Lotos Eaters" episode of Homer's Odyssey. However, in a characteristic way, Tennyson inserts in this poem the issue of the meaning of life.
Usually Tennyson is used to preach the philosophy of action. Ironically, in this particular poem, he speaks about the philosophy of lethargy and inaction. Probably Tennyson is presenting a case of what happens when man stops, as Tennyson puts it in Ulysses, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield".

The poem begins with the description of the effect of the lotos fruits on the mariners of Ulysses. On the midway of their long and weary journey towards home, the mariners reach the island of the lotos-eaters. They eat the lotos fruits and get intoxicated. In that
mood, the natural beauty of the island arrests their attention. They appreciate the island with its "slender stream", "three mountain
tops" and the "charmed sunset". They are charmed by the music of the island. The music, softer than the soft petals of roses, has a gentler effect on the sailors. They feel happy and sleepy. Thus, their mental state gets a change while seeing the island of cool mosses, flowers and sleep-inducing poppy.

However, after eating the lotos, their reasoning power becomes perverted and they begin to question the meaning of all human activities. The mariners observe that everything under the sun enjoys rest. Everything is born, passes a natural course and finally dies. This seems to be an automatic process. In contrast, man's life is a continual struggle. It is the struggle against hunger, disease, suffering and death. Man's life is crushed with sorrow and still he is
thrown from one sorrow to another. The irony of human existence is that, in spite of being the best of the creation, man has to encounter
the worst of the struggle. The mariners sing:

“Why are we weigh'd upon with heaviness,
And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
While all things else have rest from weariness?”


Thus, by drawing upon a contrast between human life and all other things on this earth, the mariners wants to rationalise their plan to
live in this island in a state of permanent rest, peace and tranquillity.

Again, the mariners think that although once they had happy home and hearth, all had changed due to their long absence. They
would no more be welcomed by their wives and children. Or, it may be that their properties have been looted by the naughty princes of
the island. Their glorious deeds have been futile legends. Now to go and reclaim everything would invite only trouble. They have no more the willpower to face trouble. This is why, they prefer to stay here in the lotos island.

In The Lotos Eaters", Tennyson puts forward one side of the view of life. According to this view, man should not strive for higher achievement and rather indulge in inaction. By putting this view in the mouth of the weary mariners, Tennyson has exposed the
emptiness of such view. The subject matter that Tennyson presents in the poem has a universal appeal. The poem is rich in its pictorial quality. Tennyson very vividly portrays the beauty of the island though many sensuous images. The language of the poem is verymusical too, which is also typical of Tennyson.

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