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Ulysses Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” is a blank verse modern re-telling of the epic story of Odysseus (the Greek form of Ulysses) found in the Odyssey. In Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses has returned home to Ithaca, but years to continue his exploring. While much is based on Homer, Tennyson also used the literary figure of “Ulisse” from Dante’s Inferno.

Ulysses Alfred Lord TennysonThe poem opens with Ulysses’ discontent with his return to domestic life. The speeches of Ulysses reflect his contrasting moods. Tennyson interrupts iambic pentameter with spondees that slow the reading of the work. This is an intentional movement that is supposed to reflect Ulysses’ own doubts about what he is saying.

“Ulysses” consists of seventy lines of blank verse in the form of a dramatic monologue. However, scholars have never been able to accurately tell to whom Ulysses is speaking. Some believe that Ulysses is speaking to several people, first himself, and then his son Telemachus, and finally his sailors.

Tennyson wrote the poem in 1833, but it was not published until 1842. It was the death of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam that inspired this work and another of Tennyson’s famous poems, “In Memoriam A.H.H.” Modern critics argue whether there is irony in “Ulysses” and whether Tennyson identifies himself with the speaker. T.S. Eliot later called the work a “perfect poem.”

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