Critical appreciation of “Ulysses” by Tennyson.

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“Ulysses”  is a famous dramatic  monologue of Tennyson. It was first published in 1842, soon after the death of Arthur Hallam, his best friend. To overcome the deep shock, the poet felt  “about the need for going forward,  and braving the struggle of life...”  Though the poem resulted from this feeling,  Tennyson transformed it into an impersonal  passion  for  knowledge,  adventures,  and  for  the exploration of the yet unexplored areas. It embodies the Victorian spirit.

Ulysses was the king of Ithaca in Greece. He fought against the Trojans and defeated them. When he returned home after twenty years he and his wife, Penelope became old. But Ulysses lost interest in homely life. He decided to set out for a new adventure. This poem records that mental strength of Ulysses. However, Ulysses’ mental strength or will power has been used in the Victorian context. The poem deals with the thriving spirit that the Victorians had for knowledge, exploration, discovery and invention.
“Ulysses” is composed in the form of a dramatic monologue. Ulysses alone speaks throughout the poem. Some silent listeners whom Ulysses addresses as  “My mariners”  and  ”my friends”,  are present around him. The speaker’s  youthful spirit and his thirst for unlimited knowledge have been revealed in his speech. However, the poem lacks the analysis of the psyche of the speaker. Similarly, it lacks the Sharp dramatic turns of a successful dramatic monologue.

The poem is written in blank verse. The lines are in iambic pentameter without rhyme at the end. For  instance:
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags.

The blank verse matches well the heroic tone of the speaker. The speaker’s  heroic spirit has been carried over from line to line by the run-on blank verse. The blank verse also reflects Ulysses’ manliness.
The figures of speech used in this poem also contribute to the heroic spirit of the speaker. For example, “drink life”,   “drunk delight”,  ”to rust unfurnished”,  ”like a sinking star”,  ”gloom the dark”,  “The deep Moans”,  and  “sounding furrow” are all figures  which have been used to suggest Ulysses’ heroic qualities. There are also allusions and references. For instance,  “the rainy Hyades”,  ”Telemachus”,  ”men that strove with gods”,  ”Happy Isles”  and  ”Achilles”  are used very effectively to recreate Ulysses’ heroic past. Thus,  the figures, references and allusions used in ”Ulysses” are functional rather than decorative.
“Ulysses” presents both Tennyson’s   presents both Tennyson's personal determination and Victorian spirit in the from of a dramatic monologue. It has all the elements of a dramatic monologue except psycho-analysis. 

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