Ulysses by Lord Tennyson: Literary Analysis

December 20, 2021 by Essay Writer

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s fascination with Greek mythology and Arthurian legends are largely evident in his literary works. The Lady of Shallot, Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, Galahad and Idylls of the King are examples of his Arthurian inclinations. Ulysses, Tithonus and The Lotos Eaters show his beguilement to Greek mythology.

The poem Ulysses was written in 1833 the same year his friend Arthur Hallam passed away. The poem, co-incidentally, largely looms around the concept of death. Tennyson perhaps wrote Ulysses to come to terms with the reality of his friend’s death, the portrayal of death as a journey would plausibly have aided Tennyson to accept Hallam’s premature demise. The poet himself has said the poem, “gave my feeling about the need of going forward and braving the struggle of life”

The perspective of domesticity in the poem provides insight into the personal life of the poet. Tennyson’s father passed away in 1831 which forced him to take responsibility for his family. He had a paltry income and three brothers who were ill. His dearest friend Arthur Hallam who was also his sister, Emily’s fiancé, died just as he was finally adjusting to his duties.

Ulysses’ frustration and discontent reflects the poets own state of mind at the time, having to manage a household so deeply entrenched in grief. On another occasion when the poet was discussing his poem he revealed his emotional state at the time, “There is more about myself in Ulysses, which was written under the sense of loss and that all had gone by, but that still life must be fought out to the end. It was more written with the feeling of his loss upon me.”

The impetus to write Ulysses was enthused on both personal and literary fronts. The poem Ulysses draws inspiration from Homer’s epic, Odyssey and Dante’s Ulisse in Inferno. Tennyson found inspiration for the mood and attitude of his Ulysses from Homer’s Odysseus and the form and feeling of the poem as well as the post-classical frame of heroic spirit was mirrored from Dante’s Inferno.

Shakespeare’s Ulysses from Troilus and Cressida has also inspired the character of Tennyson’s own Ulysses.

However, Tennyson altered the original characters of Homer and Dante to suit his personal outlook and the popular social philosophies of the Victorian age. In the middle ages ambition was considered depraved, one is to be happy with their place in life, however, in the Victorian era ambition and striving were considered admirable traits. This is reflected in Tennyson’s poem.

Tennyson’s Ulysses is rife with creative inspiration. It reflects the poet’s personal method of dealing with profound sorrow. He astutely marries his enthrallment with mythology and the preservation of Hallam’s soul in literature.

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