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Ulysses Compared to Journey of the Magi Essay


This essay will attempt to offer a close, detailed comparison of the following pair of poems, Alfred Tennysons poem Ulysses(1842) and T. S. Eliots poem titled Journey of the Magi(1927). We will also aim to provide some discussion of in regards to aspects of period, form and genre relevant to these poems.

Ulysses is a poem written in 1833 and published in 1842 by Alfred Tennyson preceding the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The character of Ulysses drives from the Greek myths of Odysseus. This character has been explored widely through literature. The poem therefore unsurprisingly contains historical context.

As the poem begins, Ulysses has returned to his kingdom, Ithaca, having had a long, eventful journey home after fighting in the Trojan War. Confronted again by domestic life, Ulysses expresses his lack of contentment, including his indifference toward the "savage race" that he governs. Ulysses compares his restlessness and boredom with his heroic past. He contemplates his age and eventual death as is visible in lines 24-26 where he states "Life piled on life, were all too little, and of one to me, little remains" Ulysses expresses his longing for further experience and desire for more knowledge.

His son Telemachus will inherit the throne that Ulysses finds burdensome. While Ulysses thinks Telemachus will be an adequate king, he seems to have little empathy and faith in his son as he expresses in line 43"He works his work, I mine" and the necessary methods of governing "by slow prudence and "through soft degrees". In the final section of the poem, Ulysses turns his attention to his mariners and calls on them to join him on yet another quest, making no guarantees as to their fate but attempting to appeal to their heroic past he states:

Come, my friends,

'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;

it may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

and see the great Achilles, whom we knew. (5664)

The speaker's language is modest and forceful, and it expresses Ulysses' conflicting moods as he searches for a connection between his past and future. There is often a marked variance between the sentiment of Ulysses' words and the sounds that express them. For example, the poem's insistent iambic pentameter is often interrupted by spondees (metrical feet consisting of two long syllables), which slow down the movement of the poem; the labouring language casts into doubt the honesty of Ulysses' sentiments. A prime example of this can be seen in lines 1921 where the poem states:

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'

Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

The poem's seventy lines of blank verse are presented as a dramatic monologue which involves a single character giving an extended speech at a critical moment to a silent listener, and is used to characterise the speaker. This form of poetry was favoured by many of the poets in the Victorian period. It is not necessarily clear to whom Ulysses is speaking, if anyone, and from what location. Some see the verse turning from a soliloquy to a public address, as Ulysses seems to speak to himself in the first movement, then to turn to an audience as he introduces his son, and then to relocate to the seashore where he addresses his mariners.

Ulysses moves through four emotional stages that are self-revelatory, not ironic: beginning with his rejection of the barren life to which he has returned in Ithaca, he then fondly recalls and reminisces about his heroic past, recognizes the validity of Telemachus' method of governing, and with these thoughts plans another journey.

There also appears to be a notable influence of Shakespeare within two passages of the play. In the early movement, the savage race "That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me" in line5 echoes Hamlet's soliloquy: "What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more."

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