Tennyson’s Philosophy of Life as Reflected in the Poem “Ulysses”

Few poets have produced acknowledged masterpieces in so many different poetic genres as Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892); he furnished perhaps the most notable example in English letters of the eclectic style. His consummately crafted verse expresses in readily comprehensible terms the Victorian feeling for order and harmony.

Tennyson, like Browning, is the great literary titan of Victorian Age whose philosophy of life is expressed again and again through his poetry.

Tennyson was devout Christian and ardent believer in God;
                “That God, which ever loves and loves   
                One God, one law, one element,
                The one far off divine event
                To which the whole creation moves”.

He was not a religious fanatic and ultra-modern. He, therefore, equally welcomed the influence of historic Christianity and modern scientific thought. His philosophy was practical. In Ulysses his philosophy and personality both are seen to be merged. Tennyson himself said that Ulysses which was written shortly after Hallam’s death (September-1832), gave his “feeling about the need of going forward, and braving the struggle of life, perhaps more simply than anything in In Memoriam (1850)”. Ulysses (published in 1842) is one of his massive pillars on which Tennyson’s fame mainly rests. It embodies “the modern passion for knowledge, for the exploration of its rimittess fields, for the annexation of the new kingdom of science and thought”.    [Prof Hales].Ulysses a dramatic monologue spoken by the hero of The Iliad and The Odyssey is the characteristic of strong meter and well-placed consonance and assonance, with the excellent bold massage of navigation.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Ulysses finds the meaninglessness of life, which he has been enjoying in his hilly kingdom in the company of old wife and ruling over the savage people – who do not know him. He wants to drink life to the less as a typical Victorian would have done. A life of indolence is no more than death. It is a life in death. A life of rest from all toils and moils is not desired. He has seen much and known much but is not satisfied with what he gained. For him as to the Victorians;
                “All experience is an arch where through
                Gleams that untravelled world whose mergin fades
                For ever and for ever when I move”.

                The adventurous spirit in Ulysses does not allow him – , “to pause, to make and end, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use!” The unquenchable desire seized him “to follow knowledge like a sinking star/ beyond the utmost bound of human thought”.      

                Ulysses’ energy is inexhaustible. Man’s life is short. To Ulysses a little life is left. But old age does not mean, for him the end of life. He is firmly determined to make the best use of every hour of life. To remain inactive means an end of life. So to Ulysses ceaseless activity and motion and not “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield” are ought to be ever remembered as even in old age. “Some work of noble note may yet be done”. Till one’s death every hours should be spent in actively.

It may prove a bringer of new things. This guiding principle for life is typically Tennysonian and basically Victorian in tone.

                The high spirit and energy and resolution of Victorian Age are fully celebrated in Ulysses. Ulysses like a typical Victorian is fired with energy to grasp the unattainable and the infinite. With his old mariners he is extremely eager to go out a new voyage in search of undiscovered shores and fresh adventures;
                “To sail beyond the sunset and the bathes
                Of all the western stars until I die”.

                It is true that though the mariners are not in full strength of young, though they are “made weak by time and fate” but they have the will and the determination to touch the untouchable.

                The robust vigorousness of Ulysses is expressed again and again. The personality of the poet and the philosophy both are seem to be merged. What the poet feels, expresses through lips of Ulysses. Ulysses’ own idea and ideals, his own thrust for knowledge, his desire to see the unseen, to know the unknown and to touch the untouchable are basically the ideals and desire of the poet.

                Thus Tennyson’s Ulysses is a superb creation of artistic excellence. With Keatsian pictorial quality and his astonishing command of musical resources of language is blended so accurately that it becomes a landmark in English literature. It expresses the philosophy (attitude towards life) of the poet as well as energy and resolution of his age. Tennyson’s attitude towards life here is in sharp contrast to the attitude revealed in The Lotos-Eaters.

“Surely, Surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-Gean, wind and shore the wave and oar;
Oh rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more”.

                They find no meaning in toil in view of the fact that death closes all. 

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