Tennyson's Ulysses as a Victorian Role Model

Powerful Essays
Ulysses as a Victorian Role Model

Ulysses is a classical hero who reappears in the literary work of great poets such as Homer and Tennyson. During the Victorian era, Alfred Lord Tennyson was one of the most famous poets in England, he even held Britain’s prestigious position of Poet Laureate. Tennyson began writing during a period in which duty and conformity were traits that distinguished the middle class from the lower class. In a two-volume collection of “Poems,” Tennyson writes “Ulysses” after the death of a close friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. Hallam inspired the character Ulysses, while the loss of the special friendship influenced the tone of the piece. The Ancient Greek hero describes his loathing of regal position and desire to travel before his impending death. Amongst the underlying grief, Tennyson utilized the poetic form of dramatic monologue to protest the social values of the era. In the poem “Ulysses,” Tennyson expresses his view on the need for individual assertion and rebellion against bourgeois conformity, the result is the development of a very self-righteous character that places more value on himself than the external world.

Ulysses longs for a journey of the mind and soul “to follow knowledge like a sinking star” (Tennyson 31) and leaves behind the responsibility of his kingdom. Ulysses seems to feel unimportant when he is at home by his “still hearth”, “among barren crags” (Tennyson 2). He would rather be experiencing “the drunk delight of battle” (Tennyson 16) than spending time with his “aged wife” (Tennyson 3). Ulysses explains his motivation: “I cannot rest from travel, I will drink/ Life to the lees” (Tennyson 6-7). Ulysses feels he is living without truly being alive and only memories from his pa...

... middle of paper ...

...strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (Tennyson 70), placing a romantic image in the audiences’ head of Ulysses sailing away, and hopeful.

Works Cited

Tennyson, Alfred Lord. “Ulysses.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Christ,

Carol T., Catherine Robson, and Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.


E. J. Chiasson, "Tennyson's 'Ulysses'—A Re-Interpretation." Critical Essays on the Poetry of

Tennyson. Ed. John Killham (New York: 1960), 164–173

Mazzeno, Laurence W. "Alfred, Lord Tennyson." Critical Survey of Poetry. Ed. Frank N.

Magill. Vol. 7. New Jersey: Salem Press, Inc., 1982. 8 vols.

Robbins, Tony. “Tennyson's ‘Ulysses’: The Significance of the Homeric and Dantesque

Backgrounds.” Victorian Poetry. Vol. 11, No. 3. West Virginia UP,

(Autumn, 1973),177-193
Get Access