Tennyson’s Ulysses

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Q1.Ulysses has been called a dramatic monologue. Do you agree with the view?

ANS: Ulysses can be called a dramatic monologue because the poet, first of all, does not speak in his own person, but through a character as in a drama, and secondly because only one character presents his speech, which gives us the impression of his character and opinions. Again we perceive the presence of imaginary listeners, the old mariners, who are supposed to listen to Ulysses.

Q2: Whom did Tennyson model his Ulysses on in the poem Ulysses?

Q3. “It profits little… by this still hearth…crags”. What is the meaning of the word ‘hearth’ here?

OR, Explain the significance of the expression “still hearth” here.

ANS: Literally ‘hearth’ means the floor at the bottom of a fireplace. But Ulysses uses the word in its literary sense, in which it means domestic life. He says so because as a man of adventure and heroic actions he is not accustomed to leading a calm and quiet family life, nor does he like to be confined to a barren and sterile place like Ithaca, which fails to satisfy his wild imagination.

Q4. “It profits little…know not me.” How does present his life in Ithaca?

OR, What picture of the land do you get from the speech?

OR, Why is Ulysses dissatisfied with his present life in Ithaca?

ANS: Ulysses who came back to his kingdom from the Trojan War after twenty years of adventure on the seas, is now naturally dissatisfied with his present life. He finds his kingdom sterile, unproductive and unromantic. He finds that his wife has now become an old woman. Again as a king he is forced to rule the people of Ithaca with unfair and imperfect laws, as they are uncivilised and lead their life by just accumulating money and things, by sleeping. They do not show any desire either to know or follow Ulysses’ heroic ideals.

Q5.”I cannot rest…to the lees.” Explain the comparison implicit here.

OR, What impression of the speaker’s character do you get from the lines?

ANS: Ulysses who came back to his kingdom from the Trojan War after twenty years of adventure on the seas, is now naturally dissatisfied with his present life. He detests being confined to a single place. He wants to set sail again because he wants to explore the unknown. Again as a drunkard drinks his bottle of wine to the last drop, Ulysses intends to enjoy life to his last breath, that is, until death.

Q6.”…when/ Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades/ Vext the dim sea…” Explain the significance of the lines here.

ANS: Ulysses who came back to his kingdom from the Trojan War after twenty years of adventure on the seas, is now naturally dissatisfied with his present life. He recounts how he both enjoyed himself and suffered greatly in his adventure on the lands and on the seas as well. Even when there was the constellation of stars, the Hyades that forecast heavy rain and storm and when the sea was actually disturbed by the winds and the waves of clouds in the sky, he faced the situation and won over it.

Q7. “I am become a name”. Who says this and why?

Q8. “Myself not the least, but honoured of them all.” Who is referred to here as “honoured of them all”? Why does he say so?

Q9. Explain the expression “the ringing plains of windy Troy”.

ANS: in Homer’s Iliad Ulysses’ glory as a heroic figure culminates in his contribution to the Trojan War. Here he recounts his past experience. Troy was besieged by the attacking Greek king. So the planes outside were to be always resounded with the sound of battles. Again the movements of the battles created the impression that it was always being swept over by some winds.

Q10. “Yet all experience…when move.” Who is the speaker here? Explain how he compares experience to an arch.

ANS: Ulysses who came back to his kingdom from the Trojan War after twenty years of adventure on the seas, is now naturally dissatisfied with his present life. He wants to set sail again because he wants to explore the unknown. From his experience he has seen that just as the arch of the sky or the horizon recedes in the distance once it is reached at, thereby creating another arch to be explored, every new human experience leads one to another, creating a never-ending series of experience.

Q11. “How dull it is…to shine in use…!” Explain the metaphor implied in the lines.

Q12. “…Life piled on life…bringer of new things…” what attitude of the speaker to life is reflected in these lines?

Ans: Ulysses– back to his kingdom from the Trojan War after twenty years of adventure on the seas– is now naturally dissatisfied with his present life. As he reflects on his past life, he finds that, if here were given many lives instead of the present one, it would have still fallen short of activities and achievements. He knows that every moment of life, saved from death, is precious since, utilised properly, it can bring fresh new things like knowledge and experience. This is the attitude of a mythical hero who wants to set sail again even in his old age.

Q13. “Vile it were…hoard myself.” What does the speaker mean by three suns here? Why does he detest his present life?

Q14. “ This gray spirit…sinking star…human thought.” Why does Ulysses evoke the image of a ‘sinking star”? What does he mean by the “ utmost bound of human thought?”

ANS: During the ancient times the sailors would depend upon the stars for determining right direction. But Ulysses plans to go further: he wants to explore knowledge and gather experience by crossing the human limit; that is, he is willing to venture into the world unknown by crossing the limit of this world.

Q15. “This is my son…I mine.”

How does Ulysses present his son, Telemachus

OR, “He works his work, I mine.” Explain.

ANS: Ulysses presents Telemachus as a sharp contrast and as a foil to himself. As an embodiment of domesticity and responsible kingship, Telemachus is fit to rule Ithaca. Ulysses is confident that his son will be able to transform the rugged, wild and uncivilised people into a civilised nation by passing gradually appropriate laws, and to canalise their energy and spirit towards doing useful and good activities. Not only does Telemachus have the decorum, but he has also the propriety to take care of the deities of their family and worship them properly.

Q16. “There lies the port…dark broad seas.” Explain the dramatic context of the lines.

Q17. “Souls that have toiled…..free hearts and free foreheads.” Who are referred to here as ‘soul’? How does Ulysses glorify their past?

Q18. “Old age hath…be done.” Explain.

OR. “Death closes all…be done.” EXPLAIN.

Q19. “Not unbecoming of man…gods”. Explain.

ANS: In Homer’s Odyssey Ulysses had to struggle with the sea god Poseidon, and as a result he had to wander on the seas for a long time. Again in Iliad different gods took sides with the warring parties out of their whims. Ulysses along with his faithful companions fought with them and came out victorious at the end, though they had to suffer miserably for this. This line is actually a reference to those incidents.

Q20. “The lights…many voices.” What is the context of the description? Do you find any symbolic significance of the description?

ANS: As Ulysses decides to set sail again, he exhorts his old mariners to start preparing for the journey. He is in a hurry because he knows like the day his life is also going to close. In the lights twinkling from the coast, he finds a clear call that it is time to go. But if the images are closely examined, Ulysses journey into the unknown becomes one unto death.

Q21. Explain the expression, “…in order smite/ The sounding furrows.” Where did Tennyson borrow the expression?

ANS: In ancient times the ships were rowed by the warriors in particular order with the king sometimes acting as the helmsman. A furrow actually refers to a long narrow cut in the ground, especially one made by a plough. Here Ulysses refers to the roaring waves created by the moving ship on water. Tennyson inserted this expression reminiscent of Homeric one in Iliad in order to inject some heroic note in the monologue.

Q22. “…for my purpose…until I die.” Explain. What is the ancient belief reflected in the lines? What does Ulysses mean when he says so?

ANS: In ancient Greece people believed that the earth was flat, that and the ocean was a river surrounding the earth, and that the stars set at the western limit of the sky. Ulysses declares this because he wants to travel beyond the limit of this world. In this, however, the journey becomes one unto death.

Q23. “It may be…the Happy Isles…the great Achilles.” What does Ulysses refer to as the “Happy Isles? Do you find any personal note contained in the lines?

ANS: As Ulysses sets the indefinite aim of sailing beyond the limit of this world before his old mariners, he informs them that, they will be either devoured by the waves of the ocean or able to reach Elysium, the legendary abode of the blessed after death and meet Achilles, one of the greatest heroes of the Trojan War. Tennyson here might be thinking of his own highly talented friend, Arthur Hallam who died young.

Q24. “We are not … moved heaven and earth…” What does the speaker want to mean by the line?

ANS: Ulysses here tries to encourage his old companions to undertaking the journey towards exploring the unknown world by reminding them that in spite of not retaining the same degree of physical strength as they had in their prime of life, they still have some energy left. Not only that he reminds them that it was they who fought against the gods and came out victorious in the Trojan War and other adventures,

Q25.”We are … not to yield.”

ANS: Ulysses here tries to encourage his old faithful companions to undertaking the journey for the unknown by reminding them that in spite of not retaining the same degree of physical strength as they had in their prime of life, they still have some energy left. They have strong determination to try their hands with some heroic deeds, and it is this determination that compels them to attempt explorations and adventure and forbids them to surrender to fate.

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