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Tennyson's Ulysses


It little profits that an idle king,

By this still heart, among these barren crags,

Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel; I will drink

Life to the lees. All time I've enjoy'd

Greatly, have suffer'd gratly, both with those

That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when

Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known,-- cities of men

And manners, climates, councils, governements,

Myself not least, but honor\rquote d of them all,--

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am part of all I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'

Gleams that untravelle'd world whose margin fades

For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!

As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains; but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this gray spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.


This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,--

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill

This labor, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and thru' soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the god.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessels puffs her sail;

There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,

Free hearts, free foreheads,-- you and I are old;

Old age hat yet hin honor and his toil.

Death closes all; but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done.

Not unbecoming men that stroves with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;

The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep

Moans round to many voices. Come, my friends.

'T is not too late to seek a newer old.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The shounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be thet the gulfs will wash us down;

It may be shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, mich abides; and tho\rquote

We are not now that strenght which in old days

Moved heart and Heaven, taht wich we are, we are,--

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yeld.

young Tennyson

There is a temporal theme underlines this piece. Time is passing in fact Odysseus and his crew are getting older. There is a sense that an age is passing and that a new time has come in which the quality of men such as Odysseus and his contemporaries are becoming obsolete. He sees this in his son. In the first stanza Ulysses expresses his discontent with his current condition. He calls himself "idle king" and does not believe that his return to Ithaca could be useful for someone and in particular for his family. This stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, alerting the reader the adventurous spirit of Ulysses, and his dissatisfaction with remaining at home.

At the beginning of the second stanza Ulysses explains his restlessness. He begins: "I cannot rest from travel", and goes to explain his desire to live life to the fullest, claiming "I will drink life to the lees". He is fascinated by the things he has not experienced. The more he learns and discovers the greater his desire to learn more is. He realizes that his thirsth of knowledge is the most important feature of his personality and analyzing the situation he understands that this is his real nature. He is not content with the life he finds at home, and he is distressed because he feels he should make the most of every moment he has left. This stanza explicitly expresses to the reader what Ulysses is thinking and feeling.

In the third stanza Ulysses addresses his son Telemachus. Ulysses expresses that Telemachus is satisfied with exactly the kind of life and work that distress Ulysses. He admits that Telemach us will do an excellent job ruling in his place, and that there is really no need for him there. This allows Ulysses to return to his previous lifestyle. Not only does he have the desire he expresses in the second stanza, but he also has not responsibilities tying him down. Ulysses has decided to leave again in the fourth stanza. He calls his men to the port, and tells them of his plan. He acknowledges they are old, but also that they still have time to ommit honorable deeds. These are men who understand him, and will go seek adventure with him. He also declares that he will pursue death. For men who have lived like Ulysses and his men an heroic death is the only fitting death.

The last stanza has great impact. Ulysses admit that they are not as strong as they were when they were young. Also Ulysses speaks of reaching the Happy Isles, which was the dwelling place of mortals who had been made immortal by Gods. Here he also speak about a meeting with Achilles, another war hero who died. Ulysses is sayng that he will not meet death but immortality in his journey. We can testimoniate that Ulysses still lives and he really will never die. The final leaving is the only way to make this character really immortal. We know that Ulysses, in Tennyson too, represents the human thirsth of knowledge. This thirsth will never die just like the myth of Ulysses.

old Tennyson