Friday, February 3, 2012

Ulysses Poem

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The poem I chose to write about is “Ulysses”, by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It is a poem based on Homer’s Odyssey, which is the story of Odysseus (Ulysses) and his journeys. Odysseus was King of Ithaca and leader of the Greek army. The Greeks sailed into Troy to fight what turned out to be a lengthy battle. After ten years at war, Odysseus and the Greek army conquered Troy and set out on their voyage home. On their journey they encountered a series of adventures. I plan to discuss what the poem “Ulysses” is about, why it was written and what it means. “Ulysses” is a speech Odysseus gives to his sailors, rebelling against his life and conformity, after he reclaimed the throne in Ithaca. According to Dante, Ulysses never returned to Ithaca because of his love for adventure. Tennyson combines Dante’s ending with Homer’s to show Ulysses’ rebellious nature. In his speech Ulysses explains why he wants to leave Ithaca forever. He says that he has returned home and found his wife is old and his duties as King are only to make sure the laws are kept. He does not want to live a life of conformity, instead he wants to “drink/Life to the lees” (8). Lees are the sediments left at the bottom of wine when it is made. Ulysses is saying that he wants to live life to the fullest and that he is leaving because he has become a part of the world that he created through his journeys. Tennyson shows this in the statement, “I am part of all that I have met” (8). Ulysses feels that if he stays in Ithaca he will be wasting his life. He says that he does not want to feel like a set of armor left to rust. Telemechus, Ulysses’ son, is left in charge as King of Ithaca. Ulysses believes that his son is better for Ithaca than he would be. He also feels the ocean and his boat calling him for one more adventure. Tennyson writes, “There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail” (84). He calls his friends and tries to inspire them to join him on his new journey. He says that together they have moved mountains and though they are not as strong as they once were, they still have a strong will. According to Tennyson, Ulysses tries to encourage his men by saying, “Come, my friends, ‘tis not too late to seek a newer world”(84). The speech is ended by Ulysses telling his men “not to yield”, but to rebel and never conform to society. This poem was Ulysses’ rebellion against conformity. He was a man who traveled the seas and had new adventures every day. Ulysses feels that if he were to give that up, his life would have no point. He could not live a life that he felt was meaningless. Tennyson shows that Ulysses does not want his life to end this way when he states, “My purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars, until I die”(84). The reason I chose the poem “Ulysses”, is because I have read and enjoyed Homer’s Odyssey. The fact that this poem is based on the Odyssey and about Ulysses speech really caught my attention. Tennyson creates a very powerful character of Ulysses through the words of this poem. While I read it, I could picture Ulysses standing in front of his men pleading and trying to persuade them to join him on one last journey. According to Tennyson, Ulysses’ reasoning was that “Some work of noble note, may yet be done”(84). I could also picture myself among Ulysses’ men, getting excited and energized, as if he was a coach giving a prep talk before a big game. The poem “Ulysses” is very different from most poems in that it is the speech of one man, written by another. I feel this approach by Tennyson, was very successful in creating a powerful image of Ulysses’ speech. The poem emphasized Ulysses rebellion against conformity. At the end of the poem, Ulysses placed his son in charge of Ithaca and set his sails west to an untold adventure.

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