How does Tennyson use the story of Ulysses to explore issues of universal concern?
‘Ulysses’, by Alfred Tennyson is a poetic monologue spoken by him, expressing his inatisfaction of his idea of life, contrastingly he also presents the concept of Carpe Diem in his urge to keep sailing. Written in 1833, it is suggested that Tennyson’s inspiration to write this poem was after the sudden death of his friend, Hallam George.
Authentically, ‘Ulysses’ is the Roman name for a Greek hero Odysseus, who had fought in the Trojan War. The presence of the Greek hero relates to Tennyson’s monologue in the way that he is in no rush to get home, and is prepared to continue with his journey, although life threatening, in order to keep himself occupied and be among an element of thrill and excitement. Tennyson refers to himself as an ‘idle king’, suggesting his boredom with life. This presents the idea of restlessness in human nature, how an individual can become acclimated to routines resulting in tediousness, and a longing to break free from these restricting barriers. This concept aids in the reader’s understanding of the character, we learn that he is a restless spirit who yearns for adventure and will ‘drink life to the lees’, he will not let life pass him by.
‘Ulysses’ is said to be a crisis lyric, a genre that presents a crisis and an attempted resolution to that particular crisis. In Tennyson’s case, the crisis he is faced with is finding his meaning in life; this is shown through the character of Ulysses. It is suggested that he knows that death is unavoidable, however, he also knows that a miserable, boring conformation of life is just as powerless as dying. His desire is to go beyond the boundaries, ‘To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars, until I die.’ During Victorian England, this interpretation may have been rather perplexing, as society formed biased opinions on those who did not conform. However, from the viewpoint of a...