Ulysses Poem Summary by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ulysses Poem Summary by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses" is a celebrated and timeless poem that explores the enduring themes of adventure, the indomitable human spirit, and the unyielding desire for new experiences, even in the face of old age. This dramatic monologue, composed in 1833, presents the voice of the aging Ulysses, the legendary hero of Homer's epic poems, the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey." In this poem, Ulysses reflects on his life's journey, yearning for further exploits, and affirming his unwavering commitment to a life lived to the fullest.

Ulysses Poem Summary by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ulysses Poem Summary by Alfred Lord Tennyson-In addition to capturing Tennyson's literary genius, "Ulysses" provides insightful analysis of the human condition. Tennyson captures the core of the human spirit's yearning for adventure, its refusal to be limited by age or situation, and its enduring drive to embrace life's difficulties and opportunities through the poem's vibrant language and rich imagery.

Ulysses Poem

It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd

Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when

Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known; cities of men

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'

Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

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! Life piled on 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 gray spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.


This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil

This labour, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred 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.


 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.

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,

'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.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One 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.


Summary of "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

The poem is a dramatic monologue, with Ulysses addressing his mariners, who have sailed with him on his adventures and challenges. He speaks as a seasoned and aging king who has returned to his kingdom of Ithaca after his long and arduous voyages, including the famous one recounted in Homer's "Odyssey."

In the opening lines, Ulysses expresses his discontent with the idle and mundane life he leads in Ithaca. He feels that it is not fitting for a hero like himself to settle into a quiet and uneventful existence. He yearns for the excitement and challenge of the open sea and the unknown adventures that lie beyond.

Ulysses Poem Summary by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ulysses thinks back on his previous adventures and the friendship he had with his seafaring companions. Although he accepts that they are all getting older, he does not see this as a drawback. Rather, he thinks that their past has strengthened and resolved them. According to Ulysses, his seafarers are a collection of unbreakable spirits that are not intended for a comfortable and idle existence.

The poem conveys Ulysses' unwavering spirit and his unquenchable thirst for new experiences. He describes how he will set out on another voyage, even in his old age. He emphasizes the importance of striving, seeking, and finding, and never yielding to the constraints of time and age.

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Ulysses then turns his attention to his subjects in Ithaca, particularly his son Telemachus and his wife Penelope. He acknowledges the responsibilities of ruling a kingdom but suggests that his son and his trusted advisors can handle the affairs of Ithaca in his absence. He is determined to explore new horizons, no matter the cost.

Ulysses Poem Summary by Alfred Lord Tennyson-In the final lines of the poem, Ulysses reaffirms his commitment to adventure and the pursuit of the unknown. He believes that it is better to strive and face challenges, even if it leads to failure, than to stagnate in the safety of his kingdom. He ends with the famous line, "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield," which encapsulates his unyielding spirit and his determination to live life to the fullest.

Key Themes in "Ulysses":

The Spirit of Adventure: "Ulysses" is a poem that celebrates the spirit of adventure and the desire for new experiences. Ulysses embodies the restless and adventurous nature of the human spirit. He longs for the challenges and excitement of the open sea, even in his old age.

The Heroic Ideal: Ulysses is portrayed as a heroic figure who has faced numerous challenges and triumphed over adversity. The poem reflects the Romantic ideal of the heroic individual who seeks to push the boundaries of human experience.

Aging and Mortality: Ulysses' acknowledgment of his own mortality and aging is a central theme. He refuses to succumb to the limitations of old age and instead chooses to live life to the fullest in his remaining years.

Legacy and Leadership: Ulysses grapples with the responsibilities of leadership and the desire to leave a lasting legacy. He contemplates the role of his son and his kingdom in his absence.

Determination and Perseverance: The poem underscores the importance of determination and perseverance in the face of adversity. Ulysses is determined to continue his quest for adventure, regardless of the obstacles in his path.

Literary Devices in "Ulysses":

Dramatic Monologue: The poem is presented as a dramatic monologue, where Ulysses speaks directly to his mariners and the reader. This form allows the reader to gain insight into Ulysses' thoughts and feelings.

Metaphor: The poem employs metaphors to convey its themes. For example, the sea is a metaphor for the unknown and the unexplored, while the mariners represent the adventurous spirit.

Allusion: The poem alludes to Homer's epic poems, the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey," where Ulysses (Odysseus) is the central character. Tennyson's poem builds on the character and adventures of Ulysses from these classical texts.

Enjambment: The poem uses enjambment, where lines flow into each other without punctuation, to create a sense of continuity and fluidity in the narrative.

Imagery: Tennyson employs vivid imagery to describe Ulysses' yearning for adventure and the challenges of the sea. The sea is depicted as a place of excitement and mystery.

Repetition: The repetition of the phrase "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" emphasizes Ulysses' determination and his unwavering commitment to his ideals.

The Message of "Ulysses":

"Ulysses" conveys a powerful message about the human spirit's relentless pursuit of adventure and the refusal to be confined by age or circumstance. Ulysses embodies the heroic ideal of a life lived to the fullest, characterized by determination, perseverance, and the willingness to face challenges head-on. The poem suggests that the desire for new experiences and the spirit of adventure are fundamental to the human condition. Ulysses' call to "strive, seek, find, and not yield" resonates with readers as a reminder to embrace life's challenges and possibilities, regardless of one's age or station in life.

Generations of readers have found inspiration in this poem, which continues to be a timeless examination of the human urge for adventure and the resistance to let age and time limit one's possibilities. The advice given by Ulysses still acts as a call to action for people who want to experience life to the fullest and go out on their own valiant adventures.



In Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Ulysses," the poet explores the themes of adventure, the human spirit, and the desire for new experiences in the face of old age. Through the voice of the aging Ulysses, who longs for one last journey and reflects on his life's adventures, Tennyson delivers a powerful message about the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

The poem celebrates the heroic ideal, portraying Ulysses as a figure who has triumphed over adversity and continues to seek challenges and excitement, even in his advanced years. It delves into the themes of aging and mortality, with Ulysses refusing to accept the limitations of old age and instead choosing to embrace life to the fullest.

"Dramatic monologue" serves as the literary device through which Ulysses directly addresses his mariners and the reader, allowing us to gain insight into his thoughts and emotions. Metaphors, allusions to classical literature, enjambment, imagery, repetition, and other literary techniques enhance the poem's depth and impact.

The everlasting theme of "Ulysses" is the human spirit's unwavering quest of adventure and its refusal to let age or circumstance limit it. Regardless of age or status, Ulysses' exhortation to "strive, seek, find, and not yield" is a potent reminder to seize life's opportunities and challenges. Generations of readers have been moved by the poem, which is still relevant today as a celebration of the universal human need for adventure and the will to defy aging and time.

"Ulysses" is a testament to Tennyson's poetic prowess and his ability to capture the essence of the human condition in a form that endures and inspires. It remains a classic in the realm of English poetry, cherished for its evocative language, profound themes, and the timeless message it imparts to all who read it.



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