Critical analysis of Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Critical analysis of Ulysses

Subjective Note: The poem expresses the insatiable thirst of the human soul for knowledge. It was the spirit of the Italian Renaissance that made modern Europe what it is today. He has also given us here a picture of that mind. He kept up his attitude of mind throughout life and repeated in poem after poem the idea of the eternal search after truth beyond the limits hitherto attained.    

Philosophy: The philosophy of Ulysses in the poem is Tennyson’s own philosophy. He followed the vision or gleam throughout life and that took him onwards. Ulysses is the modern passion for knowledge, for the exploration of its limitless field, for the annexation of the new kingdoms of science and thought. The human spirit is dauntless. It can never grow weary in its search for knowledge. 

There is in human spirit an insatiable curiosity, a strong urge to know more and more of the mysteries of the universe. If we lead a life of mental activity we are sure to prosper. A settled and lazy mind is bound to kill the soul. Ulysses is the expression of those eternal and everlasting elements in man’s nature.

Tennyson seeks to present ‘a philosophy of life’ in the person of Ulysses as the very personification of strong passion for knowledge. He hates to stay at hope but loves to be adventurous. Though he is becoming old but he becomes young from his mental side. In spirit he is still young.

Dramatic Monologue: Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses is considered as a dramatic monologue because the entire poem is spoken by a single character, whose identity is revealed by his own words. The lines are in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter, which serves to impart a fluid and natural quality to Ulysses’ speech. The poem is divided into four paragraph-like sections. The sentences of this poem often end in the middle, rather than the end.

Like many of Tennyson’s other poems, it deals with the aspiration to reach beyond the limits of one’s field of vision. Ulysses is the converse of the mariners in “The Lotus-Eaters,” who proclaim and desire only to relax amidst the Lotus fields. But Ulysses does not take rest from travelling and longs to roam the globe. The character of the speaker emerges almost unintentionally from his own words because of its dramatic monologues. Ulysses’ present responsibilities show his ineffectiveness as a ruler. He devotes a full 26 lines to his own selfish declaration of his zeal for the wandering life, and another 26 lines to the exhortation of his mariners to roam the seas with him. Tennyson uses enjambments to reflect the meaning and content of the poem which is that of sailing beyond death.

Style: Blank verse is pitched in a tone of austere rhetoric, “sententious and weighty and weighty”. The style is held by the classical spirit, and there are echoes of classical phrases. Now and then, the imagination is indicated.

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