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What is the era that the poem "Ulysses" was written in and how was the poet affected by...

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sallysal1987 | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted April 29, 2013 at 12:10 AM via web

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What is the era that the poem "Ulysses" was written in and how was the poet affected by the era in his writing of this poem?

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 30, 2013 at 3:26 PM (Answer #1)

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Tennyson was probably more affected by personal matters in the creation of "Ulysses." In 1833, Tennyson's close friend Arthur Hallam died. At the time, Tennyson was living with his mother and nine other siblings. Tennyson's father had died two years prior to Hallam's death. So, Tennyson was forced to return home and care for his family. Then he hears of his friend's death. Tennyson was faced with a profound grief at the death of his friend and he was feeling trapped in domestic (familial) responsibilities. This is analogous to the feelings Ulysses had at being stuck at home, feeling melancholy about the adventures he was missing. 

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnished, not to shine in use! 

For Tennyson, it might have been "dull" to be restrained by his familial responsibilities. It was also depressing to consider the "end" of his friend, Hallam who died at the young age of 22. 

In a larger historical context, this poem was written during the Victorian Era as England was defining itself as the world's most powerful imperial power. Some critics have read this poem as a precursor to the English empire and its increasing colonization of other lands. Considering this historical context, one might see Ulysses' desire to "seek a newer world" with the historical context of the potential for English colonial expansion. 

It is debatable whether or not Tennyson intended this connection. But it is likely that Tennyson was using "Ulysses" as a personal, and maybe a national, motivation to pursue adventure rather than stagnation. 

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