Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VI. Fancy: Sentiment
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VI. Fancy.  1904.
 
Poems of Sentiment: VI. Labor and Rest
The Lotus-Eaters
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)
 
I.
“COURAGE!” he said, and pointed toward the land;
“This morning wave shall roll us shoreward soon.”
In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,        5
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon:
And, like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall, and pause, and fall did seem.
 
II.
A land of streams! some, like a downward smoke,
        10
Slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn, did go;
And some through wavering lights and shadows broke,
Rolling a slumbrous sheet of foam below.
They saw the gleaming river seaward flow
From the inner land: far off, three mountain-tops,        15
Three silent pinnacles of aged snow,
Stood sunset-flushed: and, dewed with showery drops,
Up-clomb the shadowy pine above the woven copse.
 
III.
The charmèd sunset lingered low adown
In the red west: through mountain-clefts the dale        20
Was seen far inland, and the yellow down
Bordered with palm, and many a winding vale
And meadow, set with slender galingale;
A land where all things always seemed the same!
And round about the keel, with faces pale,        25
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The milk-eyed, melancholy Lotus-eaters came.
 
IV.
Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,        30
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far, far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep asleep he seemed, yet all awake,        35
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.
 
V.
They sat them down upon the yellow sand,
Between the sun and moon, upon the shore;
And sweet it was to dream of Father-land,
Of child, and wife, and slave; but evermore        40
Most weary seemed the sea, weary the oar,
Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
Then some one said, “We will return no more;”
And all at once they sang, “Our island home
Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.”        45
 
CHORIC SONG
I.
There is sweet music here that softer falls
Than petals from blown roses on the grass,
Or night-dews on still waters between walls
Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass;
Music that gentlier on the spirit lies        50
Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes;
Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.
Here are cool mosses deep,
And through the moss the ivies creep,
And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep,        55
And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep.
 
II.
Why are we weighed upon with heaviness,
And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
While all things else have rest from weariness?
All things have rest: why should we toil alone?        60
We only toil, who are the first of things,
And make perpetual moan,
Still from one sorrow to another thrown:
Nor ever fold our wings,
And cease our wanderings,        65
Nor steep our brows in slumber’s holy balm;
Nor hearken what the inner spirit sings,
“There is no joy but calm!”
Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?
 
III.
Lo! in the middle of the wood,
        70
The folded leaf is wooed from out the bud
With winds upon the branch, and there
Grows green and broad, and takes no care,
Sun-steeped at noon, and in the moon
Nightly dew-fed; and turning yellow,        75
Falls, and floats adown the air.
Lo! sweetened with the summer-light,
The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow,
Drops in a silent autumn night.
All its allotted length of days,        80
The flower ripens in its place,
Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil,
Fast-rooted in the fruitful soil.
 
IV.
Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o’er the dark-blue sea.        85
Death is the end of life; ah! why
Should life all labor be?
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?        90
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful Past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?        95
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave,
In silence ripen, fall, and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death of dreamful ease!
 
V.
How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem        100
Falling asleep in a half dream!
To dream and dream, like yonder amber light,
Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height;
To hear each other’s whispered speech;
Eating the Lotus, day by day,        105
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
And tender curving lines of creamy spray:
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
To muse and brood and live again in memory,        110
With those old faces of our infancy
Heaped over with a mound of grass,
Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!
 
VI.
Dear is the memory of our wedded lives,
And dear the last embraces of our wives,        115
And their warm tears; but all hath suffered change;
For surely now our household hearths are cold:
Our sons inherit us: our looks are strange:
And we should come like ghosts to trouble joy.
Or else the island princes, over-bold,        120
Have eat our substance, and the minstrel sings
Before them of the ten years’ war in Troy,
And our great deeds as half-forgotten things.
Is there confusion in the little isle?
Let what is broken so remain.        125
The gods are hard to reconcile:
’T is hard to settle order once again.
There is confusion worse than death,
Trouble on trouble, pain on pain,
Long labor unto aged breath,        130
Sore task to hearts worn out with many wars,
And eyes grown dim with gazing on the pilot-stars.
 
VII.
But, propt on beds of amaranth and moly,
How sweet (while warm airs lull us, blowing lowly),
With half-dropt eyelids still,        135
Beneath a heaven dark and holy,
To watch the long bright river drawing slowly
His waters from the purple hill—
To hear the dewy echoes calling
From cave to cave through the thick-twined vine        140
To hear the emerald-colored water falling
Through many a wov’n acanthus-wreath divine!
Only to hear and see the far-off sparkling brine,
Only to hear were sweet, stretched out beneath the pine.
 
VIII.
The Lotus blooms below the barren peak:
        145
The Lotus blows by every winding creek:
All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone:
Through every hollow cave and alley lone
Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotus-dust is blown.
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,        150
Rolled to starboard, rolled to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotus-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like gods together, careless of mankind.        155
For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurled
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curled
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world;
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,        160
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.
But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning, though the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,        165
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine, and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer—some, ’t is whispered—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.        170
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labor in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.
 
 
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