The Character of Ulysses in the Poem by Tennyson
The poem Ulysses is a dramatic monologue that the king of Ithaca, Ulysses speaks. He just came back from the Trojan War although once he is caught up in his everyday routine, he shows unhappiness in life plus indifference towards the people and his family. He compares his the past of heroism to the present boring state and puts emphasis on his yearning to revisit his heroic past.
On the one point of view, Tennyson presents Ulysses as a grand and noble man who recalls the heroic events of his past to justify his refusal to submit quietly to inertia, old age, and death. He makes this memorable character of Ulysses through his heroic desire to explore life into new worlds, and fight life until its end. He uses enjambment to represent the notion of heading on “beyond the utmost bound of human thought” (32). Ulysses’ desire to travel is emphasized on by persistent use of movement verbs such as “roaming” which paints an image of travel with awesome majesty (Warner, p.2). Ulysses, on his journey, is “honored” by countless persons in foreign areas. He “dr[a]nk delight” and exposed his eminence. Post the experience of such surprise, Ulysses can’t be contented to calm and repose, for “all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untravelled world” (19-20). Tennyson doesn’t mention a lot about Ulysses’ hardship, but he does make reference towards them in only two line (8-9) and appears more like glory and less like pain. Post-reading that, the reader of the poem can only feel the signaling tow of the anonymous, the “hungry heart” and “yearning [. .] desire”
Even in his life’s twilight, Ulysses is capable of achieving great things by sustaining that (Warner, p.3). Although he’s younger and strong no more, Ulysses upholds that “[o]ld age hath yet his honor and his toil” (50). Ulysses wishes to live his life to the fullest, and as well, he does inspire the audience to do so. The picture of the sea symbolizes liberty and the future, and also the unbounded prospects of life as well as death. Tennyson employs rhythmic prominence such as ‘there gloom the dark, broad seas’, and also long vowel sounds like “the deep” and “moans round”. Ulysses articulates “Tis not too late to seek a newer world” (57). This one is connected to the sea picture, as he doesn’t want to allow his age confine or restrict him from pursuing his dreams ((Tennyson’s, p.31). In its place, Ulysses admits that he is aging; “you and I are old”. He is fearing the sea, and therefore is fearing life and death. The poem, in the very last two lines, settles into regular and powerful iambic rhythm, perchance symbolizing the oars’ rhythm. This demonstrates determination, purpose, and energy.
On the other point of view, Tennyson presents Ulysses as a pompous and arrogant man, contemptuous of his seamen, his family, and his subjects. The attitude of Ulysses towards the island, his family, and the people is extremely pessimistic. Through the use of such diction as “rest” and “idle” to describe Ulysses plus “dole” and “mete” to describe his actions, Tennyson clearly implicates that the persona is bored of Ithaca. Ulysses is reluctant to submit to his domestic responsibilities and desires to rather be having leisure and pleasure instead of being in a place of study and struggle. The phrases “barren crags” and “still hearth” represents infertility of Ithaca and still movement, both of which associate with domesticity and femininity implicating that Ulysses is also disrespectful to his family. Ulysses exhibits a negative attitude towards his seamen, disrespectfully describing them as a “rugged people”, “salvage race.” (Tennyson’s, p.24) His obsession with their material needs shows how pompous he is. The monotony of his people is emphasized using polysyndeton “hoard, and sleep, and feed.” Also, the phrase “life piled on life” refers to them suggesting useless hoarding, perhaps even the accumulation of goods and money. He does not want to fit in their life or “store and hoard” himself, but to live fully.
Ulysses’ desire for victory and adventure subdues his need for his people and family. To Telemachus, his son, he regards as docile and feminine using such phrases as “slow prudence”, “blameless” and “soft degrees” to refer to him to suggest his efficient but unheroic and dull conduct (Tennyson’s, p.26). When he introduces him, Ulysses contemptuously speaks “This is my son, mine own Telemachus” as if attempting to convince himself. Through the emphasis of pronouns of “me” and “I” Tennyson portrays Ulysses’ egotism. Even more, his selfishness is seen when he reveals his wish to leave Ithaca under his son’s leadership. He appears to think so highly of himself as if he is too important to be Ithaca’s ruler and expresses disdain for his family. His duties, he describes as “common” but his life revolves around fighting, money, and travel. Tennyson uses the juxtapose