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Ulysses to the people being ruled

Analysis of Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennison

Discussion of audiences, and the accompanying theme

The reader as the audience, and the accompanying theme

The mariners as the audience, and the accompanying theme

Himself as the audience and the theme in this stage


Thesis Statement

The poem Ulysses features a monologue by Ulysses, the king and his verbalizing of thoughts he has about his relationship with his current responsibilities, as husband to an ailing wife, father to a capable heir to the throne, leader of a group of mariners who he adventures with and finally as the leader of a nation he feels is not performing as per its current potential. This poem stands out because all of this information is conveyed exclusively through the dialogue by the persona, Ulysses. Ulysses appears to be a man in a multidimensional dilemma with each parameter involved being of great importance and this is aggravated by the fact that he feels he is running out of time and has to make a decision about what to do whether to honor his obligation to his wife, the people he rules over or to his spirit of adventure.

 Ulysses to his ailing wife

At the start of the poem the speaker starts by complaining about the fact that he is confined to his home taking care of his wife whose health is not doing well. He has been with his wife for a long time and now that she is ill, he is obligated to stay at home and oversee whatever care she gets as well as any other specific request there is. While this is very important, he quickly. His problem is not that he has to take care of his wife, his biggest problem is that he is rather still at home and believes that this is making him waste away as well. For him, progress and survival during travels are the things that help to keep one ‘fit’ (Jump, 2013).

Himself as the audience

As stated above, this is a monologue and this essentially means that he can hear everything that is being said. There are however specific sections of the speech he gives that address him as the target of the words being spoken. These are of course being done within the context of the larger monologue. When he is talking to himself, he is addressing his intensely strong desire to travel and adventure as he has done most of his life. He feels that this is the only way he gets to actually live life and be productive. The fact that life at home is sedentary without new challenges appears to bore him and make him feel irrelevant. This is seen in the way he addresses the people he leads as ‘unarmed’ suggesting that he is somewhat bored by the continuous and uneventful peace, the lack of arms suggesting the presence of a sustained tranquility in the area. He has to address himself as he feels that these travels are the only way his life gets to have some meaning. This is perhaps an effort to justify his decision to leave his ailing wife. He is of the strong belief that these travels have made him the man he is and he therefore needs to remain loyal to them (Faas, 2014).

Ulysses to the people being ruled

Given that his possible travel is bound to take him away from his duty as the king for a long time and possibly for eternity, he owes the people he is ruling an explanation and also a reassurance that they will be in good hands when he is away. He introduces Telemachus, his son as an able successor. He further goes ahead to describe the leadership qualities the son has, coupled with the virtues he is known to hold. This appears to be an informal handing over and resignation to the fact that he has resolved to travel the seas for the rest of his life. He says that this will be his work while the son does the work of ruling the isle (Tennyson, n.d.).

Ulysses message to the Mariners

As the monologue draws to a close, Ulysses talks to the mariners who are the sailors he traveled the seas with. He reminds them of all the adventures they have had together and this appears to be somewhat of a pitch given the fact that they have also aged and are weary.

 The king is desperate to hold on to and maximize on whatever life he has left inside of him. While he has some other serious obligations to attend to, it is evident that he feels there is more to life than the glamour of being a king. It seems like he spent most a great of his life giving to others and never really got a chance to enjoy it for himself. He is almost at the end of his life and deeply desires a chance to do what he loves most, travel the seas, adventure and enjoy his existence to the maximum (Tate, 2012).


Faas, E. (2014). Retreat into the Mind: Victorian Poetry and the Rise of Psychiatry. Princeton University Press.

Jump, J. D. (2013). Lord Alfred Tennyson: the critical heritage. Routledge.

Tate, G. P. (2012). The Last Lines of’Ulysses’. Tennyson Research Bulletin, 10(1), 66-70.

Tenison, A (n.d.) Ulysses

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