Ullysses - Year 12 English Lit Blog

Alfred Lord Tennyson
Selected poetry
Common themes & ideas
in Tennyson’s poetry
Praised for his ability to create musical lyrics
Master of a number of verse forms
Attempted to capture and deal thoughtfully
with the problems of his age in his poetry.
He also dealt with the more generic issues
that faced and affected all men such as
death, loss and a nostalgic yearning for a
more stable world.
20th century responses to
Tennyson (context of reception)
Post WW1 condemned Tennyson for pandering to
Victorian public demands that poetry be uplifting,
contain a moral and avoid controversial subjects.
Between the world wars critics spoke of the ‘two
Tennysons’. The first was condemned for preaching
jingoism and offering moral platitudes. The second
was valued as a morbid introvert whose achievement
lay in his lyrics with their private symbolism developed
to express personal anxieties and frustrations.
Critics since WW2 have been generally more
appreciative of the entire canon of Tennyson’s poetry.
Who is he?
A mythological hero.
Ulysses (Latin / Roman) – 3 ‘S’ letters mirror
watery sounds, the ocean - setting then
becomes a metaphor for life / journey of life
– its ups and downs.
Odysseus (Greek, Odyssey, meaning journey)
The source for a variety of literary works; his
character and behaviour can be interpreted
in contrasting lights.
Who is he?
According to myth, Ulysses (Odysseus) was one of the
Greek kings who went to war with Troy after the
abduction of Helen by Paris. He came up with the
wooden horse idea, as told in Homer’s Iliad .
Homer’s Odyssey focuses on the 10 year period after the
Trojan wars, when Ulysses wandered through the
Mediterranean, visiting islands, gradually losing all his
fellow sailors and eventually returning to reclaim his
kingdom of Ithaca.
Who is he?
His wife, Penelope, has remained faithful to him
despite his long absence
She has kept suitors at bay by saying she will not
marry until she has finished weaving a shroud
for her father-in-law, Laertes
Each night she unpicks the work she has done
on the shroud until a serving maid betrays her
to the suitors
Who is he?
Odysseus returns disguised as a beggar and sees
that Penelope has remained faithful to him
She announces that she will marry whoever can
string Odysseus’ bow and shoot an arrow
through 12 axe heads
Odysseus (still in disguise) wins the contest and
then kills the other suitors
He reveals his true identity to Penelope and
they are reunited
Tennyson’s sources
The eleventh book of Homer’s Odyssey which foretells that Ulysses, after his return,
will set off on another voyage.
Dante’s Inferno (canto xxvi), where Ulysses is
in hell for the sin of fraud and guile – he tells
the story of his death at sea on a final
Tennyson’s Ulysses
After having been home for some time, Ulysses
expresses his dissatisfaction with his life of
inaction. Idle, he is confined to Ithaca with his now
ancient wife, Penelope, and his ‘savage’ people.
He believes that there is no end to experience; no
end to his desire for new experience and for
knowledge. Despite his little time left on earth, he
feels he must strive to gain more experiences and
more knowledge.
Tennyson’s Ulysses
He does not fear Death in itself, but accepts
it as inevitable – death may close all OR may
begin the journey to Elysia…
Life is precious therefore it should all be
experienced for as long as possible.
Why did Tennyson write
Son of Reverend George Clayton
Tennyson, (Rector of the church at
Somersby, Lincs in early 19th century),
Tennyson entered Trinity College,
Cambridge (1828) and found soul
mates in ‘The Apostles’ (a literary and
social debating society) where he met
Arthur Henry Hallam.
Why did Tennyson write
At Cambridge in 1828, Tennyson meet Arthur Hallam,
who becomes his dearest friend
Five years later, Hallam dies unexpectedly of a fever.
Great depression in Tennyson leads to ‘In Memoriam’,
‘Tithonus’, and ‘Ulysses’.
“Ulysses was written soon after Arthur Hallam’s death
and gave my feeling about the need of going forward
and braving the struggle of life perhaps more simply
than anything in ‘In Memoriam’.” Tennyson
Form ....
A dramatic monologue: the entire poem is
spoken by a single character, whose identity
is revealed by his own words.
Unrhymed, blank verse in iambic
pentameter of unstressed / stressed syllables
– mirroring the natural cadences of speech.
More open, heartfelt, personal – mirroring
•First person narrative – the perspective
makes Ulysses’ voice and feelings more
immediate, realistic, involving, passionate.
•Lack of rhyme, use of enjambment,
caesura and various punctuation also
reflects more natural speech
... and Structure ...
Many of the lines are enjambed: a
thought does not end with the linebreak; sentences often end in the middle
rather than the end of the lines.
This use of enjambment is appropriate in
a poem about pushing forward "beyond
the utmost bound of human thought.“
The poem is divided into four paragraphlike sections, each of which comprises a
distinct thematic unit of the poem.
The poem deals with issues of
discontentment and unease. It contrasts
the boredom of everyday life with the
excitement of adventure. It suggests
death is close.
19th century readers saw only noble
perseverance in this poem. The modern
reader is aware of the tensions they
were happy to ignore.
•Dramatic monologue
•Blank verse (iambic
Negative, bitter,
resentful narrator
infects his
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Give out
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race, Unsavoury attitude towards his people too
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
Appears to be disgusted with his people and their need
to indulge in normal human behaviour. His selfcentredness is absolute; his only concern is himself
•Monosyllabic, negative
•Lack of energy or drive
reinforced by adjectives
•Hard sounds
Particularly harsh
Penelope waited
faithfully for 10 years
for his return!
Imagery of consuming emphasises
his egocentricity
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those A group of
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when stars – their
name thought
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name; to be derived
from the
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Greek for rain;
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
the stars were
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
assumed to be
Myself not least, but honoured of them all; omens of
And drunk delight of battle with my peers; rainy weather
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
Possible reference to attitudes towards British
colonialism in 19th century . Similar to Ulysses’
approach - the British would devour the world;
use, abuse and destroy it.
The city the Greeks
besieged for 10 years,
before finally destroying it
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch where through
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
A Ulysses we can
Not shiny; How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
sympathise with: a
not polished To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
visonary keen to
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life escape the mundane
emptiness of an
Were all too little, and of one to me
aimless life.
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
governance and
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
rejecting mediocrity
For some three suns to store and hoard myself, in favour of
something inspiring
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
and uplifting.
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
An ornamental stick carried by a king. Also possible
reference to Shakespeare’s description of Britain in Richard
II – ‘this sceptred isle’ – in which Britain is described as
being in a terrible state, because it is poorly led.
Ulysses’ son
Supports the This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
Wise, careful,
Victorian selfTo whom I leave the sceptre and the isle —
confidence of
spreading the Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
faith to the A rugged people, and through soft degrees
‘uncivilised’ Subdue them to the useful and the good.
worlds of
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Greeks and
foreigners in Of common duties, decent not to fail
Romans had
Africa, Asia In offices of tenderness, and pay
shrines in their
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
normal life
What impression of Telemachus do
Ulysses’ words give?
houses, where
their favourite
Full of
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me —
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
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,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
Does death conflict with this exciting aspiration or does it chime eerily with it? Hallam’s
death caused Tennyson to wonder whether death was preferable to life.
Tennyson’s belated Romanticism provides a different context for this idea; Shelley and
Keats both died young. The sense that Tennyson felt he was trapped in a life of decay
and failure may be seen as a reflection of his own unworthiness and unwillingness to
commit to the more dangerous implications of the Romantic way of life.
Dies away; fades
Tennyson as well as
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The Isles of the
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
blest were a kind
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
of Greek heaven
Of all the western stars, until I die.
for heroes
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
Does Tennyson want
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
to join Hallam, Keats
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
and Shelley; be
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
accepted into the
We are not now that strength which in old days
pantheon of
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
Romantic heroes?
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
Self-confident resilience
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
OR stasis on old age?
Forceful determination could suggest suicide as well as the pursuit of adventure
Loosely structured around 4 narrative sections:
Opening – framing device – present (1-5)
Past reflections – point of contrast created (632)
Present – focus on son (33-43)
Present / future – determination to sail away
Final stanza has an urgency and forward
motion, helped by strong auditory imagery –
thunder / moans / voices / sounding - (4
infinitives at the end – climax – always
continuing – reinforced through iambic meter).
Use of past / present
Listing devices
Magnitude of achievements
Imagery of consumption
Metaphors (‘arch of experience’)
Imagery – heavenly, ocean, nature
1st and 2nd sections contrast with 3rd and 4th –
hoard, feed, drinking and eating experience
contrast with intangible, heroic life.
The anxiety, the death-wish and the politically
bitter rhetoric all clash against the poem’s
central drive towards a rousing conclusion of
determined adventuring.
It is these disturbances that make the poem
most interesting; without them it would be
hollow and blaring; with them it becomes a
poem about the turbulence of the grieving
imagination’s desire to pursue a life of fulfilment
even as it encounters the realisation that such a
life may, in fact, be lost beyond recovery.
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