Tennyson’s Poetry

by: Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ulysses

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those That loved me, and alone, on shore and when Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades Vext the dim sea[.]

In “Ulysses,” Ulysses explains his feelings of restlessness. After roaming for years after the fall of Troy, he arrived home to Ithaca and ruled his land for several years. But now he feels anxious to set off for adventure once again. He enjoys all aspects of adventure equally. Even suffering feels enjoyable because pain reminds him that he is living life to the fullest. After many years of travel and near-death experiences, most men would be thrilled to relax upon a throne until their old age, but Ulysses is not like most men. Ulysses craves adventure.

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 honor’d of them all[.]

While sitting on a throne in Ithaca, Ulysses, in his eponymous poem, admits that he misses the adventure and variety of visiting new places and meeting new people. However, from these lines, readers might infer that what Ulysses misses the most are the honor and respect given to him by the foreign leaders he visits. Ulysses feels eager to get back to his adventurous life, then, at least in part to renew and boost his own personal fame, which may be fading in his older years.

[V]ile 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.

In these lines from “Ulysses,” the hero gives his thirst for adventure a more elevated cause than fame: the desire for knowledge, particularly the knowledge of things yet unknown. The idea that such discoveries await while he sits idly makes Ulysses positively disgusted, especially given that his time left on earth seems short. His description of knowledge as a star acknowledges that he will never know all and also presages how Ulysses actually dies on this upcoming adventure.

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.

In these lines from “Ulysses,” Ulysses addresses his former crew, trying to convince them to join his new adventure. He appeals to their pride, reminding them that they once “strove with Gods” during the Trojan war. He also appeals to their desire to stave off old age by continuing to perform noble work. The poet showcases Ulysses’ legendary gift for persuasion here. According to an ancient poem titled “Telegony,” Ulysses does convince the men to join him.