Tennyson contrasts Ulysses and his son, Telemachus, in the poem “Ulysses.” While Ulysses is a free spirit who longs for adventure, his son is a fixed figure who does not have that same restlessness. Ulysses is an aging man who wishes to have adventure during the little time he has left in life. He is accustomed to travel, so staying home and ruling the people is not his idea of life. His son, Telemachus, on the other hand, is a young man who does not have that restless spirit.
Telemachus, according to his father, is a smart and caring person who will stay and be a good king. He will be gentle with the “savage” people and teach them to be more civilized. Telemachus has the patience to work with people, and Ulysses is confident that he will succeed when the kingship is turned over to him.
Ulysses is quite honest that he has never been able to tame the people the way he anticipates Telemachus will. One of his complaints is that he rules this “savage race” which takes what he gives without knowing the real person behind the ruler. Although on his adventures Ulysses has encountered so many and he carries a piece of everyone with him, he has not been able to connect with the very people he rules. This is in part what feeds his desire to travel again.
Father and son are not exempt from this separation. Ulysses admits that while he loves and respects his son, they are living different lives. “He works his work, I mine.” Yet the differences between father and son do not prevent Ulysses from recognizing the good qualities in Telemachus. He knows that his son will be the gentle and fair ruler that the people need to connect with.
In addition to having the qualities that will make him a good king, Telemachus has shown Ulysses that he is a dutiful son. Ulysses is convinced that Telemachus will pay the proper respect to the gods when his father dies. Overall, the king is quite comfortable leaving his command to a son who will do good things for his people. He is proud of his son and knows he can leave Telemachus in charge while he fulfills his quest for adventure before he dies.