by Alfred Tennyson

Tennyson’s Ulysses by Clarkson Stanfield, RA

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, 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 times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed 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, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

As though 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 grey 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 fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
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 vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me —

That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads — you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which 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 yield.

Apollonio, Adventures of Ulysses (1435)SORUCE????


Tennyson’s poem Ulysses was composed in 1833 shortly after he learned of the death of a close friend from college named Arthur Henry Hallman. The description of his journey in this poem was one of inspiration in his plight to move forward in life. Like many authors, Tennyson’s poems share like themes; In Memoriam took on a similar theme of a deeply cherished friend. “Death closes all” (line51) is a quote that Tennyson chose not to allow to bring him down and set him back in life. In reading the poem, one of the main take home messages is to strive to move onward and upward in life despite the situations around you. Like other authors, Tennyson was inspired by drawing from other authors to refine his own vision. Homer’s Odyssey was the origin of Ulysses in Tennyson’s composition. He drew from elements from the storyline of this epic as well as Dante’s Inferno. Elements of the final voyage are described in Dante’s Inferno and reworked to incorporate a speech by Ulysses in Ithaca (Scwarz 39).

The poem conveys the hardship of moving onward. These struggles are shown in the word choice that Tennyson uses to describe Ulysses’ journey. “Among these barren crags”(line2) described the weight of daily life which is full of failure and lack of positive motivation. The second stanza highlights his drive to rid himself of that environment when he states: “I cannot rest from travel.” He did not want to conform to the normality of the life surrounding him. He spoke of traveling to a place “beyond the sunset, and the baths of the western starts”(line 60-61).

Since the poem is a dramatic monologue, it is written in blank verse. The audience of the poem shifts throughout from speaking to ones self to addressing his mariners and later an introduction of his son. Tennyson’s form of this composition allows for a straightforward approach to the audience and creates a sense of self responsibility for the speaker. The form conveys a symbol of freedom, and goes along with the poem’s theme. Blank verse gives the speaker the one thing that he has been trying to obtain throughout the entire poem which is freedom and the ability to only worry about himself. The form allows the speaker to not only take a physical journey in life, but to take a personal journey in ones self and convey it through words?????. Seems to misunderstand blank verse.

Important Background Information about “Ulysses”

Tennyson’s “Ulysses” made its first publication in Poems (1842). The poem was written a few weeks after the death of a close college friend Arthur Henry Hallaman. The first appearance of the poem was seen in Morte D’Arthur, and Other Idyls. (By Alfred Tennyson. London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street, MDCCCXLII. pp. 67). However, this was a trial book, printed but not published.
See “Chronology” in Henry Van Dyke’s Studies in Tennyson (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1920; rpt., 1966).
QUOTED FROM VICTORIAN WEB http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/tennyson/ulyssestext.html

Literature, History, and Culture in the age of Victoria. http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/tennyson/ulyssestext.html
Victorian Prose and Poetry, ed. Lionel Trilling and Harold Bloom (New York, Oxford, and Toronto: Oxford U. P., 1973) pp. 416-418.
Literature, History, and Culture in the age of Victoria. http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/stanfield/4.html

Schwarz, D. R. (1987). Reading Joyce’s Ulysses. New York: St. Martin’s Press, p. 39.

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