Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” is a dramatic monologue that tells the story of the legendary Greek hero Ulysses as he reflects on his life and adventures. The poem was first published in 1842 and is considered one of the most important works of the Victorian era. The character of Ulysses in the poem is complex and multifaceted, embodying many of the Victorian era’s fundamental values and ideals while revealing deep flaws and contradictions.
Sense of Duty and Responsibility
The first aspect of Ulysses’ character evident in the poem is his sense of duty and responsibility. Ulysses is a king and a husband and feels a strong obligation to his people and his family. He acknowledges his love for his wife and son and recognizes the importance of his role as a leader and a provider. This sense of duty and responsibility is a hallmark of the Victorian era, where people were expected to fulfill their obligations and responsibilities to their families and communities.
Restless and Adventurous Spirit
However, despite his sense of duty and responsibility, Ulysses is also driven by a restless and adventurous spirit. He longs to explore the world and seek out new experiences, and he is driven by a desire to experience new things and push the boundaries of what is possible. This desire for adventure and discovery reflects the Victorian era’s fascination with exploration and its willingness to expand the boundaries of human knowledge.
Regret and Longing
At the same time, Ulysses is aware of the toll that his adventures have taken on his relationships and his family. He acknowledges that his wife has aged while he was away and realizes that his son has grown up without him. This sense of regret and longing is balanced by Ulysses’ determination to continue his journey and to live life to the fullest. He speaks of his desire to make the most of his time on earth and to leave a legacy that will endure after he is gone.
Determination and Resilience
Another critical aspect of Ulysses’ character is his determination and resilience. He speaks of his desire to continue his journey despite his hardships and obstacles. He repeats the phrase “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” a powerful refrain that underscores the poem’s themes and the Victorian era’s emphasis on persistence and determination. This determination and resilience is a hallmark of Ulysses’ character and reflects the Victorian era’s belief in the power of human endeavor.
Self-Doubt and Indecision
Despite his strengths and virtues, Ulysses is also flawed and imperfect. He is prone to self-doubt and indecision and struggles to reconcile his desire for adventure and discovery with his sense of duty and responsibility. This struggle is at the heart of the poem, revealing the profound contradictions and complexities of Ulysses’ character.
Elegance and Grandeur
The language of “Ulysses” also reflects Ulysses’ character, characterized by its elegance and grandeur. The use of metaphor and allusion creates a rich and robust picture of Ulysses’ world, and the poem’s structure is formal and controlled, reflecting Ulysses’ sense of order and discipline. At the same time, the language of the poetry is passionate and deeply emotional, revealing Ulysses’ inner turmoil and his struggle to find meaning and purpose in his life.
In conclusion, the character of Ulysses in Tennyson’s poem is complex and multifaceted, embodying many of the Victorian era’s fundamental values and ideals while revealing deep flaws and contradictions. Ulysses is driven by a sense of duty and responsibility, a desire for adventure and discovery, and a determination and resilience balanced by his self-doubt and indecision.