The Courageous Travler
Lord Alferd Tennyson presents to us in the poem “Ulysses” an old sailor, a warrior and a king who is in retrospection on his experiences of a lifetime of travel. Ulysses old age and strong will causes him to be restless and unable to be comfortable at home. He chooses a life of travel over his family because that is what he knows best. Because of his faults, we identify with his character. As a result, Ulysses attempts to go on to face a new but familiar journey, not knowing if it would be his last. By connecting with Ulysses' courage he awakens the heroic spirit in all of us.
At home Ulysses is unable to adjust to old age. Regardless of his physical body he feels his spirit is still longing for travel. He feels as though his wife is too old, and he governs the people with no respect, “Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole / Unequal laws unto a savage race, / That hord, and sleep, and feed, and know not of me”(3-5). Ulysses condescends his own son by describing his timidness to rule the people and how his son is more capable of the common duties. Ulysses boasts with a sense of superiority in trying to reassure himself.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus, / To whom I leave the scepter and the isle- / Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill / This labor, by slow prudence to make mild / A rugged people, and through soft degrees / Subdue them to the useful and the good. / Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere / Of common duties, decent not to fail / In offices of tenderness, and pay / Meet adoration to my household gods, / When I am gone. He works his work, I mine (33-43).
Being a life long traveler prevented Ulysses from learning any of the responsibilities of being a father and a husband. Instead, he was traveling abroad consoling with kings, generals and gods, traveling to “cities of men / And manners, climates, councils, governments”(13-14). The only thing he gained from his travels was the unending quest for more. Retiring home is an unsatisfying dull life, which is impossible for Ulysses bear.
After all the battles and fame he has won Ulysses realizes his old age and feels required to “pause, to make and end, / To rust unburnished, not to shine in use! / As though to breathe were life!”(22-24) Ulysses reveals on lines 25-31, his old age and fear of dying, but rejects death’s attempt to muscle its way into his life.
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Ulysses directs the next verse toward his mariners, who have been with him through the bad times unlike his wife who was unable to. “Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me-”(46). At this point both the bad and the good side of Ulysses can be identified and we are called to join in on the final journey
...Come my friends,
‘Tis 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.
It may be the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles (56-61).
Tennyson seals the bond to the readers and gives us a since of connection to Ulysses courageous mission. We are left with the encouraging Idea that no matter how old we might be physically the soul lives on.
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are-
One of equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield (66-70).
This awakens the hero at heart for everyone and makes us feel proud and motivated to take on life.