Ulysses Summary and Analysis by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson- Alfred Lord Tennyson was the pioneer figure of the Victorian movement in Europe. Under the rule of Queen Victoria, he was rewarded with the poet laureate title of the 19th century. Duly accepting the responsibility he had been awarded with, the seriousness of the poet’s deliverance could be noticed in his total submission to poetry.

Setting of Ulysses-

The Victorian period was an age full of malice and unemployment due to the introduction of machines in the workforce. Tennyson falls back on his duty to address the society, not to lose hope with the changing times and gives the example of the legendary Greek king named Odysseus who ruled Ithaca and was the ancient hero of Dante’s Inferno. The poet is likely to involve the excerpt from the classics to educate the society of 19th century “to strive, to seek and to yield” to the industrialisation and reformation.
Poetic Style-
The poem is written in dramatic monologue consisting of a single speaker who addresses his audience from time to time. This form is different from soliloquy as the audience denoted, forms a part of the poem as well. There seems to be an involvement between the speaker and the audience. The speaker considers his audience to respond to him rather than speaking blindly on his own. Tennyson has written this poem in iambic pentameter.

Summary of Ulysses-

The speaker of this poem, Ulysses has returned to Ithaca after a long exile of fighting enemies and protecting his realm. He has devoted all his life participating in wars and discovering places by travelling to unnamed lands full of danger and insecurity. He has become prone to a life of uncertainty. Coming from a long voyage of fighting battles to a mundane life of a King, he starts to lament his life. He presents himself in a monologue and cries out boldly that there is merely no progress in a life of an idle king. Daily he sits on the same throne dealing with the same lazy heap of people granting them same gifts and devising same punishments. His wife, also old adds to this grief of his. He feels trapped to this mundane-ness of life. He cannot accept the ways of the King when all his life is spent in forests savagely. He describes the irony saying that the folks he rules doesn’t even know him, yet they hurriedly declare themselves to the unequal laws. He doesn’t wish to be in control. Thus, he doesn’t want to summon anyone in his name. Ulysses tries to leave a remark on the kingdom he left before going on the fighting spree again and is somehow unable to adjust to the changing environment he encounters.
He reminds himself of the time when his life was free and crude. He wishes to go back to travelling which gave him enough experiences to cherish all his life. He states that he has enjoyed different climates both severe and beautiful and has survived both. He wishes to drink life to the rim with no boundaries with the people who accompanied him in those days. He tries to declare the lifestyle he has found solace in, which doesn’t match the life of a stately king. Now that he is old and others think of him as physically weak, he wishes to disagree with the norms and tries to ravish his qualities he possessed when he was young. He concludes that he is the part of all that he has met and experienced and one cannot separate him from his adventures. He was the part of the Trojan War and drank wilfully on that night as winners. To consider himself as a designed body left just for breathing into the end of days makes him feel sick. The speaker is aware of his death hovering near him yet he refuses submission to destiny. If he goes for a look out he is sure to engage himself to new events of life.
The second stanza claims to acknowledge a group of members of his kingdom. He introduces his son “Telemachus’ and tries to justify his abilities to rule in his place. His son beholds the ability to please the household gods and to make laws to rule the rugged crowd, mildly. He claims that his son is the most appropriate for the job because he is used to the common ways of the king. So he pleads to the folks to take his son rather as the king so that he can return to his old life.
The third stanza is the poet’s plea to set out on his last voyage with the sailors who have accompanied him. He denotes the sailors to ravish themselves for the last time to set their foot out in the sea to establish yet again their glories. He confesses that they may all die and be washed away by the sea or may also meet the Gods on the other side of the universe. He has opened himself to varied possibilities and wishes his friends to do the same before “death closes all.” He is sure to progress even in the last days of his life because he has a never-ending will to hustle.


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Critical Analysis of Ulysses-

In this dramatic monologue, Ulysses justifies himself for running away from his responsibilities. He tries to convince his folks to accept Telemachus as their king so that he can continue with his sea voyages. Not only does he praise Telemachus but also criticises the mundane life of his kingdom and tries his best to get rid of it. He also wants to explore abound the knowledge of man which is not regarded biblical. He tries to disown his old wife because there is nothing extraordinary in accepting a safe livelihood. In all, the poet confirms that one should not be just a breathing body but to make use of their strength even in the end of days.

Tone of Ulysses-

In the first stanza, the speaker denotes to no one but himself. As he secretly laments the position of the kingdom and his wife who falls under his disapproval. In the second stanza, he introduces his son Telemachus to the readers, trying to justify his abilities while shadowing his wish to be freed away from his responsibilities. In the third and last stanza, he has the vigour to proceed and a settlement with death that has given him the courage to go abound with the knowledge of humans.
 
Conclusion- This poem has showcased Tennyson’s excellency in writing poems as a laureate while establishing his personal outlook. The industrialisation has also taken him aback and he fears future, thus he tries to provide solace to the readers of the Victorian Era. He is also seen grieving over the loss of his young friend. The mental crisis of a poet’s mind always leave an impact on their poems and even if the story does not surround them, they unintentionally mention the excerpts of their real life. The Greek hero was also a tragic hero who realised that death may anytime conquer him so he strives to die with adventure.

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