Alfred Lord Tennyson's Ulysses is a textbook poem published in 1833. This poem is a dramatic monolog of the classical character of the myths of Greece. Ulysses finds himself briefly bored after returning home to Ithaca after a very long trip. The banality of ordinary life makes him ill. And he's looking forward to a new grand adventure with his old sea crew.
Ulysses remembers his trip to Troy and back home at the beginning of the poem. His hungry mind is troubled by these memories. Though he has done so much in his life, all his thoughts are met with new adventures. He knows his own greatness and the fact that this very life does not suit him at all. Ulysses is probably the greatest man of his nation. And that is why he is the ruler of that nation. He deserves all the respect possible for what he has done. He embarked on a dangerous journey. He engaged in a long and hard war. He won that war. And after that he faced even more dangers on his way home. All these things made him stronger and wiser than he ever was. He also made sure to bring some of his people back to their families. A man of such quality definitely deserves respect.
It is a widespread disease of an old age, when a man begins to think that he achieved enough and stops desiring more. That is the moment when he really becomes old and stands on the road to death. Ulysses has so many feats on his account that it seems that it would be not so shameful for him to consider it enough. But he feels such a great potential inside himself that he does not even begin to think that it was enough. He refuses to submit to his old age and he refuses to look in the face of death (Killham). He mocks death with all his wit. He truly believes that many other great adventures lie before him, or at least one good adventure.
It would seem that after a journey, grand Ulysses would be at least a little bit homesick. His wife, his son, and especially his people, were waiting for him. And they finally got their king back. He is unharmed and strong, although much older than they remember him. At least his old age must be the factor that would settle him to his duties as husband, father, and king. But Ulysses can think about nothing but his journeys. It seems that he does not care about his people at all. His only desire is to abandon them once again in order to satisfy his own wishes. He abuses the trust of his old seamen. Those who returned safely home with Ulysses are as old as he is. Perhaps their desire for new adventures is not as strong as Ulysses’. But he does not pay attention to their desires. He abuses the fact that he is the king and demands all his crew to embark on a new journey (Rowlinson). A journey that would bring even more glory only to Ulysses. These thoughts and actions describe Ulysses as an arrogant and bombastic person that neglects his duties as a decent ruler of his people.
It seems that long journeys made Ulysses so hard that he ceased to be a sensitive man. He became too used to the life on the ship or under the walls of a hostile city. Of course, such conditions inevitably harden every man. So, upon returning home, he was not the man who left it years ago anymore. It was a completely new Ulysses. Adventures and dangers set in his mind too deeply. He became kind of a Don Quixote who struggles with the mills inside his mind. Ulysses’ mills are his ambitions towards new deeds. If only he could rationally overlook his life and his present status, he could maybe see that there is time for war and there is time for peace, but his mind is blurred, and he does not see anything except for those mills. Such a state of mind makes him unworthy of his title as a leader of a great nation.
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses in the poem of the same name can be analyzed both as a great man with even greater achievements and as an arrogant and selfish man who abuses the trust of his people. But after all, Ulysses deserves all the respect and support he can get. He is one of those characters that would always be heroes in the minds of ordinary people. I admire him for his feats of arms. And I especially admire him for his aspiration for further horizons. And, most of all, I admire him for the last line in the poem which can be a good motto for every decent man.
Killham, John. Critical essays on the poetry of Tennyson. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960. Print.
Rowlinson, Matthew Charles. Tennyson's Fixations: Psychoanalysis and the Topics of the Early Poetry. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994. Print.
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