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Ulysses Compared to Tithonus Essay


Giving an informed explanation of the dramatic monologue, Compare and Contrast Alfred Lord Tennysons Ulysses With Tithonus

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote Ulysses and Tithonus as dramatic monologues. A dramatic monologue involves a single character giving an extended speech at a critical moment to a silent listener, and is used to characterise the speaker. Indeed, this form of poetry was favoured by many of the poets in the Victorian period including Matthew Arnold (24 December 1822 15 April 1888) who wrote Dover Beach and Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse. Robert Browning (7 May 1812 12 December 1889) also utilized the dramatic monologue form and wrote My last Duchess which is his most famous poem using the genre. He also wrote others such as Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister and Porphyrias lover. Porphyrias lover was an attempt to examine abnormal psychology and characterizes a man murdering his lover, Porphyria, so as never to come to the day when she leaves him.

Arthur Hallam was a very close friend of Tennyson and they went to Cambridge together; they both joined the group called the Cambridge Apostles, which was an intellectual discussion group. Their close relationship meant that in 1833, when Hallam died an unfortunate death in Vienna from a brain haemorrhage, Tennyson was to be forever distraught. Nine years later (1842), Tennyson published a group of poems incuding Tithonus and Ulysses. Tennysons grief is reflected in Ulysses and Tithonus and they display his desire to recapture the past and to recapture the time when Hallam was alive. The characters in the play share all the same grievances that Tennyson did, including dissatisfaction, desire for change, nostalgia, and the effects of age. In this way, he uses the poems as a way of expressing his feelings and misfortunes, but also as a way of showing that he had a desire to die, like in Tithonus, where Tithonus says that he would be happier dead (71). His great love for Hallam was expressed in the fact that ten years later (1852), he names his son after him.

The poem Tithonus is a speech made by Tithonus, showing how he intensely regrets giving the wish for eternal life whilst forgetting to ask for eternal youth. Time marred (19) and wasted (19) him, and he is trapped in an ever degrading body. The poem Ulysses shows many similar traits to Tithonus and is a speech given by Ulysses describing his past, exciting adventures. It also talks of how he is now trapped on an island being forced to run the country with his aged wife (3).

Both characters shared beauty and success during their youth. This adds to their misery in their current life. Tithonus past beauty is expressed when he says that he was glorious in his beauty (12). He also talks of his previous sexual life with Eos, the goddess of dawn. He talks of kisses balmier than half-opening buds (59) and Tennyson constantly writes of Eos being warm and light, continually reminding of the fact that Tithonus had such a vibrant and youthful love affair. To increase the idea of the erotic intimacy, Tennyson carefully uses sibilance, with words such as kisses (59), sweet (61) and whispering (61). It is this use of language that augments the fact that Tithonus had such a blissful past life. In the same way, Ulysses also had an extremely successful past life. He was a handsome man in his prime and endured many exciting adventures. Ulysses describes how he drunk delight of battle (16) with his peers. He talks of souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me (59); and the use of rhyme suggests the harmony of his relationship with his peers. This explains that he had endured much suffering and the use of the word thought introduces the point that he was also a great thinker; he was not only practical with his hands, but also good with his mind. In this way Tennyson, therefore, shows that Ulysses and Tithonus both had great past lives, and the fact their present life is a lot less exciting, adds to their frustration. Tennyson, in both poems, presents old age as the main source of their degradation.

Furthermore, both characters share a nostalgic longing to return to their glamorous lives in the past; indeed, nostalgia plays an important theme in the two poems. Tithonus desire to return to the past is augmented when he utters, alas, for this gray shadow, once a man / so glorious in his beauty. (11-12), these words express fully his desire to return to his past life. He then revolts to passionate imperatives when he exclaims, let me go: take back thy gift (27) and others such as release me (72) and restore me (72), such language shows his fervent need to return to his former life. Similarly, Ulysses also shows an intense desire to return to his former self. His nostalgia and desire to return to his past life is expressed when he says, tis not too late to seek a newer world (70), this fully describes the mindset of Ulysses at that time. His strong desire to return to his active past is pronounced when he parallels himself to a sword and says, how dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use! (24/25), by saying this, he equates himself to an item that is entirely designed for action. This again exaggerates his restless, obsessive, nostalgic longing to return to his former life.

Moreover, Tennyson makes clever use of caesuras in the first stanzas of Ulysses and Tithonus; he uses it to express weariness in Tithonus, and constriction in Ulysses. Similarly, enjambment plays an important part in expressing particular themes in the poems. For example, enjambment is used to suggest the endless ongoing of life in Tithonus, and the boredom and desire to push limitations in Ulysses. However, the only difference is due to the fact that Ulysses is able to dream of one last, glorious adventure, with the potential to go out and recapture what former self, whereas, Tithonus days of beauty and romance will never be recaptured. Nonetheless, Tennyson presents both characters as irretrievably removed from their youth and casts this as the source of their frustration.

Moreover, both the poems share the themes of egocentricity, arrogance and self-pity. There are many comments said by Ulysses that augment his solipsistic attitude. He claims that I am part of all that I have met (19), saying that he influences all he meets. His wife, who had been loyal to him during the vast amount of time while he was away on adventure, is described by him as an aged wife. This is both extremely insulting, but, moreover, supports the idea of his arrogance. It is also how he ranks himself superior in comparison to others, which supplements the idea of his arrogant nature. For example, he states that the people of his island are a savage race (4). Moreover, he makes them seem like animals, since he says that they hoard, and sleep, and feed (5). He goes on to say that they know not me (6), again drawing another barrier between them and him, as though he is superior. His shows clear self-pity as well, for example, when he says that I am become but a name (11). The whole poem has him regretful of the great difference between his present and his past lives, and in this way, he displays self-pity. Like Ulysses, Tithonus shows traits of arrogance. He says that he was once so glorious in his beauty (13), this is not only vain in itself, but also conceited in the fact that he refers to himself in the second person; although this also reveals how distant his present self is from his youth. His past arrogance and vanity is also expressed when he says that it seemed his great heart (14) was none other than a God (14), associating himself with a deity is the peak of arrogance. He, like Ulysses also displays clear signs of self-pity. He says that me only cruel immortality / consumes (5-6), and the inversion of syntax gives more emphasis on himself and thus, exaggerates his self-pity.

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