Monday, October 7, 2013

Poetry - Tennyson

The next poem is 'Ulysses' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  I've run across fragments of this poem in places, but have never read the whole thing before.  Unfortunately, the whole piece is too long to type out so I'll link to the complete poem, which I highly recommend.  Normally I'd excerpt the first part but it's the last that stuck with me so I'll do that.  The poem is told from Ulysses' standpoint and here he speaks about retiring from being king.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail'
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads - you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
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,
Tis not too late to see 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
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall all touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
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.

The story is that of an heroic old man who is choosing to pursue one last adventure, rather than to fade away into death.  Even after all of the voyages that he's undertaken, he will once more go out there and see what happens.  It might even be good.  Or at least the worst wouldn't be terrible as he might be reunited with Achilles whom he knew of old.
It's very much a poem of things that have come to an end.  Not in death, per se, but things are changing and will never be the same again.  Even in that change, that end, the speaker will keep going.  'To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.'  It's a boast, but a calm boast, given from someone who is old and wise.
What a beautiful poem.


  1. I adore Tennyson and his Romantic predecessors: Browning, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, and Byron. That era of the United Kingdom is second in the number of geniuses per square mile only to ancient Greece.

    I am very grateful for your efforts in this blog. You have introduced me to many excellent writers and thinkers. Your analysis of these legendary works are very insightful, and always a delight to read.

    1. Thanks Nick. This has been an eye opening experience for me and I'm glad to share it.