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Alfred Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’

Alfred Tennyson is one of the great poets of English Literature. In one of his poems titled ‘Ulysses’, he draws upon the ancient hero of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. (“Ulysses” is the Roman form of the Greek “Odysseus”)


Ulysses was the ruler of the kingdom of Ithaca. Ulysses finds himself restless in Ithaca and is driven by the longing to gain experience of the world.

This poem is written as a dramatic monologue i.e. the entire poem is spoken by a single character, whose identity is revealed by his own words. The lines are in blank verse which serves to impart a fluid and natural quality to Ulysses’s speech. “Ulysses” deals with the desire to reach beyond the limits of one’s field of vision and the mundane details of everyday life.

It is said that this poem also concerns the poet’s own personal journey. It was composed in the first few weeks after Tennyson learned of the death of his dear college friend Arthur Henry Hallam in 1833. This poem is stated to be an elegy for a deeply cherished friend. Ulysses, who symbolizes the grieving poet, proclaims his resolution to push onward in spite of the awareness that “death closes all” (line 51). The poem’s hero longs to flee the tedium of daily life “among these barren crags” (line 2) and to enter a mythical dimension “beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars” (lines 60–61). The poem’s final line, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” came to serve as a motto for the poet’s Victorian contemporaries.


I had studied this poem in my college. This was prescribed for the elocution competition in college and I took part in that competition.


Here are some beautiful quotes:


‘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!’


‘To follow knowledge like a sinking star, 

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.’ 


‘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,’ 


‘Come, my friends, 

'T is 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.’ 


‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’

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