The opening line of Alfred Tennyson’s “The Lotos-Eaters” is where Odysseus calls for courage as he leads his men on their journey towards a mysterious and unnamed land. However, the nature and significance of this land remain unclear throughout the first three stanzas. Tennyson’s poetic technique allows him to portray the land in a way that is both beautiful and dangerous. Tennyson makes his scenic descriptions more than just a clever diction. His poetic language mimics and mirrors many of the intriguing effects and qualities that the land has, using inventive rhyme scheme and prosody. The poet and the hero are ultimately responsible for unravelling the mystery of the land named after the lotos-eaters. They reveal it not to be the serene sanctuary that it seems, but to be a distraction trap that threatens Odysseus with the melancholy and amnesia of unmoving times.
The land’s opening descriptor immediately draws attention because of its peculiarity and disconnect from reality. Tennyson shifts from describing human activity to natural activities here. Images that are normally filled with energy and frenetic motion seem to be imbued instead with a peculiar stillness. This is also evident in both the bizarrely inverted, enjambed construction and expression “fall and stop and fall”, which are interesting choices to reinforce the temporal nonlinearity found in the land where the Lotos-eaters.
Tennyson uses the Spenserian rhyme scheme for “The Lotos-Eaters”, which allows three rhymes to alternately appear within nine lines of one stanza. This particular choice has a consistency and regularity that is similar to the tranquil, still aura of his realm. Each stanza semantically links to the next. The streams from the first stanza flow down into the second, where they become central to the second descriptor (“Aland of streams!”). The “sunset” line in the third follows the original description of the mountains “sunset flush’d” in its preceding stanza. The enjambment is used to connect the stanzas. One sentence runs for five lines in each of the first and six in the final. Within each line, the same phrases or words are repeated.
While the repetition and abundance in rhyme patterns suggest that the text is predictable, Tennyson breaks up the flow with caesuras, incomplete rhymes and trochaic foot. Exclamation marks are used to punctuate two main descriptors: “Aland of streams!” and”Aland where all things always seem’d same!”. Colons and commas also separate descriptions later in a poem, creating pauses within the otherwise regular lines that make up iambic Pentameter. Even though the rhymes are mostly perfect, there are some examples where pairs of nearly identical words (e.g. “land”, “land”, in the first section, “adown” in verse three, and “down”, in verse four). These variations in rhyme scheme have an unsettling effect on the reader. It prevents the rhyme’s completion or closure and blocks any hopes of achieving faultless fulfillment.
As mere observers, human beings disappear into the background until they return in the last line. Tennyson’s first stanzas instead describe the land in detail. Tennyson reveals a sinister, seductive landscape. His painting strokes are reminiscent of sinuous temptations such as “slow dropping veils made of thinnest soil” or “charmed mystification”. Its complexity is evident in the poetic language that created it. This colorful land, of perennial snows and sunsets, proves to both be a linguistic as well as psychological obstacle.