Critically appreciate Tennyson’s "Ulysses" Or Do you consider "Ulysses" a representative poem of the Victorian age? Briefly comment on its pictorial quality and as a monologue and of Greek element.

Tennyson’s Ulysses is a grand monologue, where the old warrior, who embodies the spirit of heroic adventure in the primitive world, and whose manhood has been spent in twenty years war and travel, breaks away from the monotonous in activity of life on a small island, and fares forth again as a sea-rover.

Through his master piece Ulysses, Tennyson has given his contribution to the ideals of human race. As a critic has rightly suggested, the poem is the voice of a man in his hour of spiritual revival; it is the voice of an age, the voice of all adventure and exploration, whether in the region of Truth of Spirit, or of the visible world. It is the voice of the nineteenth century which was the age of discovery and invention, as also of restless expansion. Ulysses is equally the voice of Greek humanism as of the European Renaissance; it is the watch word of all these who are dedicated to the attainment of an unattainable end. It is also a war-cry against pessimism and defeatism, social apathy, and complacence. It provides “an immortal slogan for Divine Discontent, the Quest Everlasting, and the call of the Beyond”.

The poem gives us a glimpse of Tennyson’s political philosophy as well as of his attitude towards old age. That he favoured gradual political reform, and not radical and revolutionary change, is clear from the phrase “slow prudence to make mind a rugged people”. He has a very high conception of the possibilities of old age:
         “Old age hath yet his honour and his toil.
           Death closes all; but something ere the end,
           Some work of noble note, may yet be done.”

Ulysses is also a very fine example of Tennyson’s pictorial quality. Like John Keats, Tennyson also delights his readers with beautiful word-pictures. We can vividly visualize the following pictures in our minds:
                 “Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.”
“There lies the port, the vessel puffs her sail,
  There gloom the dark broad seas.”

The background of the poem is that of the rocky and unfertile island of Ithaca, the sea, and the place; it is built up in scattered phrases that also bring a picture in due mind. The rocky ledges carry us to the hamlets of the island. The deepening dusk brings their Twinkling lamps before our eyes:
          “The long day wanes, the slow moon climbs-the deep
            Moans round with many voices.”
              The poet has also tired to bring before us the stormy moods of the sea as well as the eventful life in Ulysses when he says:
                     “All times I have enjoy’d
                       Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
                        That loved me and alone; on shore and when
                       Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
                   Vent the dim sea.”

As we read we feel like going down to the boat with the king, and later on, like sitting with him, ordering, and his mariners “to sit in order and smite the sounding furrows.” This part also gives us a sense of movement.

The poem is a beautiful study of Greek atmosphere in the times of Trogon war. The people of Ithaca are naturally savage, bar barons, uncivilized. Their interest in materialistic prosperity makes them unable to appreciate the heroic qualities and adventurous, curious spirit of Ulysses. The poem also mirrors the Greek’s respect for their household gods and their care fullness in playing them ‘meet a adoration’.

It is commonly known that ‘art is long, life is short.” In this dramatic monologue, Tennyson has also given poetical expression to this philosophy. He has added that in spirit of this handicap, man must continue the quest for more and more knowledge till he is alike:
                         “Life piled on life
                          Were all, too little and of one to me
                           Little remains, but every hour is saved
                           From that eternal silence, something more,
                           A bring of new things; …………..”

Further as Steadman has beautifully said, ‘for visible grandeur and astonishingly compact expression, there is no blank verse poem that approaches Ulysses.’ His art and craftsmanship is manifested in this monologue with “a characteristic and original control of the blank verse medium.” His blank verse in this poem is sententious and weighty.’ The Wisdom of hoarded experience and determination speaks in its slow deliberated movement. When the verse occasionally relaxes, it does so to gain momentum for a fresh sweep of controlled eloquence.

To beaded more, the diction is full of surprises because Tennyson has extracted the utmost value from the words used by him. “I will drink life to the lees,” ‘a Hungary heart’, ‘hoard myself’, took the thunder and the sunshine are some of those phrases which speak for the caliber of the poet. The classical spirit and the echoes of the classical phrases combine with the lure of the unknown:
            “And this gray yearning in desire
              To follow known, like a sinking star,
              Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”

In conclusion, we must say that as a poet of man Tennyson appears before us as a man of lofty and noble ideals. He was always faithful to what lovely and noble in life. His characters are noble and inspiring like here Ulysses – strong, calm, serene and dignified who is ever after ‘strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’

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