Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
1 It little profits that an idle king,
2 By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
3 Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
4 Unequal laws unto a savage race,
5 That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
6 I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
7 Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
8 Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
9 That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
10 Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
11 Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
12 For always roaming with a hungry heart
13 Much have I seen and known; cities of men
14 And manners, climates, councils, governments,
15 Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
16 And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
17 Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
18 I am a part of all that I have met;
19 Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
20 Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
21 For ever and forever when I move.
22 How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
23 To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
24 As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
25 Were all too little, and of one to me
26 Little remains: but every hour is saved
27 From that eternal silence, something more,
28 A bringer of new things; and vile it were
29 For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
30 And this gray spirit yearning in desire
31 To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
32 Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
33 This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
34 To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,--
35 Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
36 This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
37 A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
38 Subdue them to the useful and the good.
39 Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
40 Of common duties, decent not to fail
41 In offices of tenderness, and pay
42 Meet adoration to my household gods,
43 When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
44 There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
45 There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
46 Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me--
47 That ever with a frolic welcome took
48 The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
49 Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
50 Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
51 Death closes all: but something ere the end,
52 Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
53 Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
54 The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
55 The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
56 Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
57 'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
58 Push off, and sitting well in order smite
59 The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
60 To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
61 Of all the western stars, until I die.
62 It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
63 It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
64 And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
65 Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
66 We are not now that strength which in old days
67 Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
68 One equal temper of heroic hearts,
69 Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
70 To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
1] "Ulysses was written soon after Arthur Hallam's death, and gave my feeling about the need of going forward, and braving the struggle of life perhaps more simply than anything in In Memoriam" (Tennyson). Based on a passage in Dante's Inferno, canto XXVI. Hallam had drawn Tennyson to a study of Dante. Tennyson exalts his hero's eternally restless aspiration, whereas Dante condemned his curiosity and presumption. Both poets recalled Odyssey, XI, 100-37, where the ghost foretold Ulysses' fortune.
10] Rainy Hyades: a group of stars which rise with the sun in spring at the rainy season.
34] the isle: Ithaca, of which Ulysses was king.
60-61] the baths: the place where the stars seem to plunge into the ocean.
62] wash us down: The ocean was imagined by Homer as a river encompassing the earth, and on the west plunging down a vast chasm where was the entrance of Hades.
63] the Happy Isles: the islands of the blessed, supposed to lie to the west of the Pillars of Hercules, i.e., in the Atlantic.