In the poem Ulysses, how does the title character react to old age and death?
Ulysses, as portrayed in the poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is an aging king, a man who has accomplished everything in his life that can be accomplished. He has seen kingdoms rise and fall, has created and taken life, and has become a legendary figure in the myths of his people. After all of his adventures, he has returned home to become the beloved king of his people, and yet even in his old age he feels the stirrings of travel and adventure. He cannot rest, he cannot sleep, because he needs to continue his life, not retire to a slow death as a ruler. His life now will consume him in ways he never intended, and he wants to change his life, to move beyond the accepted virtues of age and become an individual again through his own efforts:
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Ulysses, eecs.harvard.edu)
This yearning for new experiences and new trials is important to Ulysses, since he has defined his entire life around that exact philosophy. To finish his life in quiet contemplation is alien and discomforting; he cannot abide the silence of royal court when compared with the thrills of war and exploration. In defiance of time, Ulysses will venture forth beyond the usual limits of his age and if he dies on this new journey, it is in the pursuit of his own goals, not those of society. Ulysses will not conform or lie down to die, but will seek his destiny, whatever it may be, on his own terms and from his own personal abilities.