Comment on the theme of action in the poem "Ulysses." 

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In "Ulysses," the contrast between action and inaction, rather than action solely, is the major theme. Ulysses himself, as an old man, is continually "roaming," but this physical action does not stop the "yearning" of his "grey spirit" to "follow knowledge like a dying star." On the contrary, Ulysses feels himself now an "idle king," ruler of a people whose primary occupation is sleeping and eating. Ulysses contrasts this to his past, when he had "drunk delight of battle" with his fellow soldiers in the age of Troy. Now, he regrets that he no longer has the strength to continue traveling away from his country; the parts of the world he has not seen are like a physical pain to him.

However, Ulysses does indicate that the work he is now doing, along with his son Telemachus, is not worthless. They are both attempting to subdue and civilize the "savage" people of whom they will in turn be rulers: "He works his work, I mine."

The final stanza of the poem is often associated with death, as Ulysses laments to his "old" companions that, while their will is strong, their bodies are weak; the cry of the sea is strong to them, but "the long day wanes: the slow moon climbs." The pathetic fallacy here represents the drawing of life to a close, and the action Ulysses imagines—"to sail beyond the . . . baths of all the western stars"—represents sailing to a place unknown to the living, inhabited by heroes of legend like Achilles, their fallen companion. The final action of the poem, then, is the action of dying and returning to the Elysian Fields as young men again.

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In this poem, Ulysses recalls his past when he was a man of action. Now, in his older age, he laments the fact that he has become a man of inaction. He is unsatisfied with staying at home with his wife and being a ruler. He craves a life of adventure and this poem expresses this craving and Ulysses' frustration with settling down and getting older. Ulysses claims that to be inactive is to become useless: 

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

To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use! 

In the second section, Ulysses adds that his son, Telemachus, is more suited to the settled lifestyle of a ruler whereas he, Ulysses, is more suited to a life of adventure. 

In the last section of the poem, Ulysses tries to rally the troops (and himself) to seek adventure (and action) once again, despite their ages. He acknowledges that he and his men are old. Ulysses here shows his adventurous spirit but also his desperation. He wants at least one more adventure before "the end." 

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done, 

On one hand, Ulysses is neglecting his wife and social duties. On the other hand, Ulysses shows some spirit in his old age in seeking to be more active; albeit by leaving his wife at home. 

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