How to Live Those Final Days in Lord Tennyson’s Poem Ulysses

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Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” allows the reader to step into Ulysses’ mind after he returns home to Ithaca (Ferguson, Salter, & Stallworthy, 1996). While he originally thought he would find peace in his kingdom, he feels just the opposite. Ulysses is now old and debates how he truly wants to spend the last of his days. When relating the place he has returned to in Ithaca, Ulysses comments about three main disappointments: his wife, his son, and his people. Reflecting on his twenty years of adventure has made him question his decision to come back to Ithaca. He needs to prove to himself that the journey was better than actually reaching the destination before abandoning all he has worked to return to. Through comparison of what he has experienced on the sea to what he has to look forward to in Ithaca, Ulysses is able to convince himself that he is justified in desiring to return to the sea with his fellow seamen. In the first stanza, Ulysses addresses the way his wife and home have become undesirable since his return. He “matches” himself to an “aged” (1.3) wife, surrounded by a “still hearth” among “barren crags” (1.2). A hearth is supposed to be the home of a fire, and a still hearth would be one that is quiet, still, and unused. A still hearth does not do the home any good in keeping it warm and homely. “Barren” can have a dual meaning, one of which is an empty, desolate area that creates no desire to remain there. It is interesting to note that “barren” can also be applied to his wife as someone lifeless and unable to produce children. Perhaps Ulysses does not feel welcomed by his wife, and she does not kindle a fire within his heart like he remembers. Lastly, the simple statement of her being “aged” implies that she is past... ... middle of paper ... bad as he makes it out to be, so rather than admitting there are only a few things he is disappointed in, he elaborates on why he wants to leave. Ulysses convinces himself that the will “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (4.70) does not have to lose vigor in age. Never making do, never giving up, and always searching for more are as essential to Ulysses’ life as air, therefore he must reunite with his sailors at sea. At home he has to deal with an old wife, a mediocre son, and a barbaric people. Even more so, he reflects on the fulfilling, adventurous, and legendary life he had before returning home. Through the contrasting of his present life on Ithaca with his past life on the sea and future possibilities of adventure, Ulysses is able to persuade himself that he is justified in his desire to leave home once again and explore the world on the seas.

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