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ULYSSES by Tennyson




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ULYSSES  by Tennyson


Tennyson's Ulysses is an old and tired king who rules over an island inhabited by people who are only concerned with material life. He has fought in the war of Troy, he has met dangers and adventures of all sorts and he “became a name” famous all over the world. But although he is old and he guesses that “little remains” for him to live, he wants to set sail for the extreme adventure before “death closes a11”. Tennyson's Ulysses has, therefore, much in common with Dante’s, the hero that induced his companion to leave Ithaca and their fami1ies 'per seguir virtute e          conoscenza'. He also wants to “follow knowledge- words that are almost a literal translation of Dante's line- and is ready to challenge death and the unknown. But, unlike Dante's Ulysses, Tennyson is not going to break a divine law. The nineteenth century faith in science and progress had long cancelled man's fear of going beyond the limits imposed by God ( the Philars of Hercules in Dante's XXVI canto), which had tormented the medieval mind. So Ulysses becomes the expression of the dynamic man Tennyson’s times, who believes that he has the right and the duty of exploit all the possibilities of the human intelligence. Under this aspect he is contrasted only with his son Telemachus who represents the balancing force of stability and conservation.



Another aspect of  Ulysses’ personality, however enriches his figure, making it poignant1y human. It is his realization of having lived the best part of his life, of having 1ost the integrity of his body and his energies; it is his awareness that death will soon put an end to everything. That gives a note of melancholy to the poem which filters through lines 1ike: “made weak by time and fate”, “you and I are old”, etc.

On the personal level Ulysses becomes the alter ego giving expression to his torturing doubts about man's role and destiny after death. But on a more general level he becomes a methaphor for human existence, in which even the most optimistic view of life- the one which interprets life as material and intellectual progress- is never separated from the melancholy awareness of the destiny of decline and death reserved for all men.



This dramatic monologue has the features of a high-flown sustained speech of a king and of a leader to his men. Their presence is essential but not individualized.

They are there as an audience, not as interlocutors. The language is richly figurative and the poet tends to use “poetical” words, that is to create a Romantic 'poetic diction' in contrast with Wordsworth theory of the return of the language to everyday life.

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