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Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Ulysses” demonstrates the dissatisfaction of Ulysses in staying at his kingdom, Ithaca. The poem is a dramatic monologue that shows how discontent…
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June 17, King of the Land or King of Thyself in Tennyson’s “Ulysses” While others would literally kill to be a king, one king rejects the crown and prefers to sail away. Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Ulysses” demonstrates the dissatisfaction of Ulysses in staying at his kingdom, Ithaca. The poem is a dramatic monologue that shows how discontent he is as a king. The theme of the poem is about the meaning of life that is found in constant exploration and adventures, not in sitting idly to rule a kingdom. Ulysses believes that, to fully live, he must forego his traditional duties and pursue his personal dreams of freedom and adventure because he would rather be the King of his destiny than the King of the land.
Performing traditional duties of kinghood and being a family man does not provide meaning to life because people are hard to manage and staying at home is unproductive. Ulysses believes that being a king seems useless when subordinates are generally unruly. He thinks that kinghood is senseless: “…I mete and dole/Unequal laws unto a savage race” (Tennyson lines 3-4). Kinghood is meaningless when kings cannot control the laws they pass since many people are affecting their decisions, and it is also meaningless because people generally want to do as they please, like savages. Moreover, Ulysses is discontent as a husband and as a father. He thinks it is boring to stay at home with an “aged wife” ” (Tennyson line 3) and be a father to a son who already knows what to do as a king, even better than he can. He says with pride that Telemachus is “[m]ost blameless” (Tennyson line 39) and he can serve the people and even the “household gods” well (Tennyson line 42). In other words, Ulysses does not find himself useful in his kingdom. Instead, he is sure that his destiny lies in his ocean adventures where he is free.
In order to have a full life, Ulysses intends to be the King of his fate through freedom and traveling. He thinks that staying in Ithaca will make him grow older faster because his body barely moves and his mind deteriorates in seeing the same things. He says that to be a King is “[t]o rust unburnishd, not to shine in use!” (Tennyson line 23). Ulysses believes that living on land is the same as rusting, while sailing is to shine. In addition, sailing is the only way of life for Ulysses because he meets new people and gains new knowledge from different experiences, whether they are battles or mere social interactions across the world. He believes in the beauty of exploration and making international social connections: “Much have I seen and known; cities of men/And manners, climates, councils, governments,/Myself not least, but honourd of them all;/And drunk delight of battle with my peers” (Tennyson lines 13-16). He mentions the cultural aspect of his travels, as well as the violence, all of which bring enrichment and joy to his soul. The last line summarizes what Ulysses intends to do for the remaining days of his life. He says: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (Tennyson line 70). Ulysses is a man of action who wants endless adventures and pursuit of change and knowledge. To live in Ithaca is to yield to old age and death, and this is the last thing that Ulysses wants for his destiny.
Ulysses wants to be the literal and figurative Captain of his fate. He desires to be free to sail and meet other people in distant lands than to stay as a king in Ithaca. Ulysses signifies the human need for constant growth and adventure, a way of having a meaningful life before death comes. Indeed, he would rather die outside in foreign lands than in his hometown. Essentially, Ulysses expresses his innermost desire where the title is his name because his only dream is to be free to fully control his life. Read More
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