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“The Lotos Eaters”

Lotus. A plant of several genera; as, the lotus of the lotus-eaters, probably a tree found in Northern Africa (Zizyphus lotus), the fruit of which is mildly sweet. It was fabled by the ancients to make strangers who ate of it forget their native country, or lose all desire to return to it. A lotus-eater is one who gives himself up to pleasure-seeking. — Webster, 1882

“Courage!” was the first word under than, and breathlessly Laura read… – Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 12, “Snug for Winter”

In Little Town on the Prairie (Chapter 12, “Snug for Winter”), Laura Ingalls finds a copy of Tennyson’s Poems hidden in Ma’s bureau drawer. Laura reads a portion of the poem “The Lotus Eaters” before realizing the book must have been hidden there as a Christmas present for her. She keeps the secret, and later receives the book as a gift (see Chapter 19, “The Whirl of Gaiety”). “The Lotus Eaters” was by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). It first appeared in his 1842 two-volume work, Poems. In the linked volume, “The Lotus Eaters” is on page 29. The poem is transcribed below.

A lotus-eater became known as one who gave themselves up to pleasure instead of hard work, a hard concept for young Laura Ingalls to come to terms with. The navigation button shows an 1882 painting illustrating the idea.

The Lotos Eaters
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“Courage!” he said, and pointed toward the land,
“This mounting wave will 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,
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.

A land of streams! Some, like a downward smoke,
Slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn, did go;
And some through wavering lights and shadows broke,
Rolling a slumberous sheet of foam below.
They saw the gleaming river seaward flow
From the inner land: far off, three mountain-tops,
Three silent pinnacles of aged snow,
Stood sunset-flushed: and, dewed with showery drops,
Up-clomb the shadowy pine above the woven copse.

The charmed sunset lingered low adown
In the red West: through mountain clefts the dale
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,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotus-eaters came.

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
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,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.

They sat them down upon the yellow sand,
Between the sun and moon upon the shore;
And sweet it was to dream of Fatherland,
Of child, and wife, and slave; but evermore
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.”


The Lotos Eaters / The Lotos-Eaters (LTP 12, 19), see also Tennyson’s Poems