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Poem | By Alfred Tennyson - Ulysses | 12th English : UNIT 4 : Poem : Ulysses

Chapter: 12th English : UNIT 4 : Poem : Ulysses


Read the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which speaks of the unquenchable thirst of the Greek hero Ulysses for travel and exploration of new vistas, until death would overpower him.



Alfred Tennyson

Read the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which speaks of the unquenchable thirst of the Greek hero Ulysses for travel and exploration of new vistas, until death would overpower him.


It little profits that an idle king,       

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,    

Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole        

Unequal laws unto a savage race,     4


That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.     

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink         

Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d    

Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those    8


That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when   

Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades     

Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;     

For always roaming with a hungry heart    12


Much have I seen and known; cities of men        

And manners, climates, councils, governments,  

Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;         

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,          16


Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.   

I am a part of all that I have met;     

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’    

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades       20


For ever and forever when I move.  

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,   

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!  

As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life      24


Were all too little, and of one to me 

Little remains: but every hour is saved      

From that eternal silence, something more,         

A bringer of new things; and vile it were    28


For some three suns to store and hoard myself,  

And this gray spirit yearning in desire      

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,   

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.      32


This is my son, mine own Telemachus,     

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle, -

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil         

This labour, by slow prudence to make mild       36


A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees    

Subdue them to the useful and the good.   

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere         

Of common duties, decent not to fail          40


In offices of tenderness, and pay      

Meet adoration to my household gods,     

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.     

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:        44


There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me -  

That ever with a frolic welcome took        

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed        48


Free hearts, free foreheads - you and I are old;   

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;   

Death closes all: but something ere the end,        

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,        52


Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.      

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep  

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,      56


‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.    

Push off, and sitting well in order smite    

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds     

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths    60


Of all the western stars, until I die.  

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:        

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, 

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.        64


Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’        

We are not now that strength which in old days 

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;    

One equal temper of heroic hearts,  

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will  

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.         70




The poem ‘Ulysses’ is a dramatic monologue that contains 70 lines of blank verse. Ulysses, the king of Ithaca, gathers his men together to prepare for the journey and exhorts them not to waste their time left on earth. Ulysses has grown old, having experienced many adventures at the battle of Troy and in the seas. After returning to Ithaca, he desires to embark upon his next voyage. His inquisitive spirit is always looking forward to more and more of such adventures.

The poem can be divided into three parts – (i) the thirst for adventure, which does not allow Ulysses to remain in his kingdom as a mere ruler; (ii) Ulysses handing over the responsibility to his son Telemachus, with total confidence in his abilities; (iii) Ulysses’ clarion call to his sailors, urging them to venture into unknown lands.


About The Author

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson (6 August 1809 – 6 October 1892) was a British poet. He was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria’s reign and remains one of the most popular British poets. Tennyson excelled at penning short lyrics, such as “Break, Break, Break”, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, “Tears, Idle Tears”, and “Crossing the Bar”. He wrote verses on classical mythology such as Ulysses, Idylls of the King and Tithonus. Tennyson’s use of the musical qualities of words to emphasise his rhythms and meanings is sensitive.


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