Friday, 13 April 2012


Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson (1833) is a dramatic monologue, a kind of narrative poem in which a single character may address one or more listeners. It is related to the soliloquy used in the Elizabethan plays.
It is usually written in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameters).
In a dramatic monologue the character is different from the poet himself and is caught in a crucial moment of crisis. 

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 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: 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 honour’d 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 wherethro’ 
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades 
For ever and forever 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. 

Lines 1-32

Ulysses opens his monologue by revealing dissatisfaction and contempt for his present life, which is boring and meaningless (lines 1-5); he is in Ithaca among "barren crags" and he feels deep nostalgia for his past adventures and glory. He asserts "I am a part if all that I have met" (line 18) implying that his life has been moulded by his experiences, which are compared to an  arch (line 19). What Ulysses longs for is what he sees through that arch: that untravell’d world whose margin fades / For ever and forever when I move , that is the world he is yet to know, the experience he is yet to live.

   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 thro’ 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. 

Lines 33-43
These lines represent a pause in the narration because Ulysses introduces his son, Telemachus, as highly qualified to implement the kind of policy in which Tennyson believed: the gradual civilazation of a "rugged people" (lines 36-37)
He does not try to carry out the task himself because he is temperamentally unsuited to it, and also because he has no time left for such a slow process.
Tennyson uuses the characters of Ulysses and Telemachus to represent two kinds of life:
Telemachus is the typical Victorian man devoted to responsibilities and social duties while Ulysses stands for the man longing for an active and adventurous life, expression of the thirst for knowledge which could bring Man to greater progress. 
Telemachus who is able ... to fulfil /this labour, by slow prodence to make mild/ a rugged people, and thro' soft degrees/ subdue them to the useful and the good also stands for the model English colonizer who brings distant rugged people their own culture, religion, civilization and progess. 

 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 tho’ 
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. 

Lines 44-70
In the last part of the monologue Ulysses is aware that death will soon put an end to everything and yet he issues his proud challenge to the oncoming nothingness openly turning to his mariners and proposing a voyage into the unknown to them (lines 56-57). These last lines propose Tennyson's conflictual attitude to life, characterized by great optimism always veiled by melancholy.
Melancholic expressions are "you and I are old" (line 49), "Death closes all" (line 51), "we are not now that strength", (line 66), "made weak by time and fate" (line 69) while the last line made up of a succession of verbs "to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield" sums up Ulysses's unrestrained desire for a life of action, courage and determination.

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