The Lotos-Eaters "Why Should Life All Labor Be?"

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"Why Should Life All Labor Be?"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Ulysses' sailors try to rationalize the fact that they have given up going home in order to stay on an island of numb tranquillity. They are tired of "heaviness," "distress," and "weariness": "All things have rest; why should we toil alone,/ We only toil, who are the first of things. . . ." Their "inner spirit" tells them the message they want to hear: "There is no joy but calm!" They wish to be like the flower, which "Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil. . . ." They wish to bask in the sweetness of "mild-minded melancholy." After all, they would cause only disruption if they returned home after so many years. They have had "enough of action, and of motion. . . ." They will relax like gods: "slumber is more sweet than toil," and work is tiresome:

Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o'er the dark-blue sea.
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?
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?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence–ripen, fall, and cease;
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.