Summary of Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson


Summary: Ulysses, king of Ithaca, had returned to his kingdom after twenty years of the Trojan War. He has wandered different strange and unknown places and seen many countries, lands and woods. At last he has returned to his house with full of experiences. Still speaking to himself he proclaims that he “cannot rest from travel” but feels compelled to live to the fullest and swallow every last drop of life. He has enjoyed all his experiences as a sailor who travels the seas, and he considers himself a symbol for everyone who wanders and roams the earth. Ulysses declares that his travels and encounters have shaped who he is: “I am a part of all that I have met,” he asserts. Ulysses declares that it is boring to stay in one place, and that to remain stationary is to rust rather than to shine; 

to stay in one place is to pretend that all there is to life is the simple act of breathing, whereas he knows that in fact life contains much novelty, and he longs to encounter this.


So, now he wants to go out and wander again with his sailors to observe more of the world abroad. He would never remain idle at home and rust in disuse. His son, Telemachus, is good enough for the task of governing the savage people of his land and making them civilized.


The wind is favorable and the ship is ready. Ulysses exhorts his companions to achieve something noble and marvelous before they die:


Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. 


He asks his companion the mariners with whom he has worked, traveled, and weathered life’s storms over many years to join with him and sail beyond the sunset. He declares that although he and they are old, they still have the potential to do something noble and honorable before “the long day wanes.” Although, they have not got that strength which in the old days enabled them to move heaven and earth, though they have been made weak by Time and Fate, yet they possess a strong will. He encourages them to make use of their old age. 


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