The legend of The Iliad and The Odyssey are two of the most famous works of fiction ever created. They depict the king of Ithaca, Odysseus - Ulysses in Latin - as he travels the world on adventures. He battles great monsters, defeats enemy empires, and befriends and angers gods, before triumphantly returning home. It is easy to close The Odyssey and feel content that the story is over. However, Ulysses does not stop there. He continues to rule Ithaca for years afterwards. While it took hundreds of years, eventually a great author was able to take the complex character of Ulysses and continue his story in ways that people will most likely be studying and analysing for just as long as the original story. Albert Tennyson’s “Ulysses” has garnered the recognition of many critics, each with his or her own interpretation of the poem on both a thematic and narrative level.
“Ulysses”, while a narrative poem, does not fit neatly into traditional structures and categorization, and critics argue what this says about the speaker of the poem and the setting he is in. The narrative of the poem is told disjointedly according to some, and even to what audience, if any, the poem is being presented can be confusing. T.S. Eliot, along with other critics, says that it does not give a sense of clear story. “[F]or narrative Tennyson had no gift at all,” Eliot went so boldly as to say (Napierkowski and Ruby 283). However, other critics argue that the structure of the poem, through its meandering way, is one of its greatest strengths. Ian Scott-Kilvert claims that the flowing structure and lyricism of "Ulysses" “illustrates… that Tennyson’s essential classicism is in his view of the poem as a work of art, with form as its disting...
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... off kilter narrative sense gives insight into his state of mind, and the uncertainty of an audience represents his uncertainty in himself. Meanwhile, other critics look at how Ulysses’ struggle comes from his role as a “hero” to his people, instead of a normal person. According to this interpretation, living a life where his only sense of self worth is his actions has caused him to be discontent. Alternately, it has been pointed out how the poem constantly returns to images and allusions to death and finality, showing this man’s relationship with his own mortality. Undoubtedly, there are others who have read the poem and come to their own conclusions on who the speaker is and what he wants. The variety of opinions and interpretations of “Ulysses” shows just how complex and timeless its speaker is. Tennyson’s work will most likely live on for countless years to come.
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