Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s epic poem "Ulysses" is composed as a dramatic monologue, consisting of four stanzas each of which frankly discuss the speakers current situation and yearning for adventure. The use of iambic pentameter provides a sense of fluidity to the speaker’s voice. The speaker reveals himself to be the protagonist of the poem with the opening line “It little profits that an idle king” (1). The use of the word “idle” offers the first clue as to one of the main themes of the poem. Tennyson much like the protagonist of his poem feels the need to move on, in life. The period in which the poem was wrote, many sociable changes where occurring in Victorian England, the effects of the industrial revolution where being felt far and wide and there was, the idea that society needed to work together in order to establish conformity. Ulysses is feeling emotionally empty throughout the poem, without his mariner friends and adventures similar to times gone by, a similar situation that Tennyson had found himself in.
“Ulysses” was written after the death of his close friend, soul mate and confidante Arthur Henry Hallam. This was one of many poems composed by Tennyson, upon Hallam’s death the most notable being “Memorandum” (1833-1850). Tennyson himself commented how the series of poems were a direct comparison to how he felt after the loss of his dear friend. The poem was published in the book Poems by Alfred Tennyson (1842). Mythological characters appear to play an important role within Tennyson’s poetry, from English folk law characters such as King Arthur that featured in “Morte D’Arthur and other Idyllis” to the Greek mariner and adventurer Ulysses. The character of Ulysses has featured in many great epic poems, most notably Homer’s “Odyssey” and “Iliad” and Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”.
Tennyson although not unique in his characterisation of the Ulysses, he does however provides a different representation of the Greek hero, than his peers and predecessors’. We discover Ulysses after the famous battle of Troy and his twenty year hiatus from his kingdom of Ithaca. Tennyson's decision to use the Latin spelling of the name is explained in Robbins critique;
The poet finds the inspiration for his speaker’s mood and attitude in Homer’s Odysseus and Dante’s Ulysses, especially the later, whose mode of utterance in the inferno suggests form and feeling of Tennyson's poem. (Tennyson's "Ulysses": The Significance of the Homeric and Dantesque Backgrounds. 177-93)
Stanza’s one and two are relatively short in comparison to the third and forth stanzas, when examined closely the reasoning behind the decision to use Dante's Ulysses becomes apparent. The speaker provides little detail and discuss’ his wife and the citizens of Ithaca as if they where inconsequential, his wife is described as "aged" and the people of Ithaca are described as “a savage race, / That hoard, and sleep, and feed". A number of critics compare Tennyson’s own personal...