In "Ulysses," how is the story of Ulysses told, and what is the narrative structure used?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem "Ulysses" by Lord Alfred Tennyson is a dramatic monologue, which was a style so new that many readers may have mistaken it for a soliloquy in the style of Shakespeare. Tennyson and Robert Browning were the developers of the form, and Browning used it to great effect in poems like "Porphyria's Lover." A dramatic monologue is characterised by a first person speaker; the revelation of deep personal emotion; great insight into the characters; and an assumed listener who is not the reader.

The poem "Ulysses," written in blank verse and in an eligaic mood (UNC Glossary: elegy: poem derived from song of mourning or lamentation) is in three basic sections. The first is lines 1 though 32 in which Ulysses talks about his present unproductive situation and his intentions to hazard adventures on the sea again. Section 2, from lines 33 to 43, displays a change in the speaker's tone as he assumes a public "voice" and makes a public announcement of his intentions with a tamer vocabulary than that which he used in his reflections in section 1.

Section 3 runs from line 44 to the ending at line 70. He and his companions are preparing to leave as he speaks up and encourages all to make the most of the time they have left to them to live. He reminds them that misadventure may await them as easily as adventure, cautioning that they may find themselves in Hades, trapped on the other side of the Rock of Gibraltar. He also says that, on the other hand, they may arrive at the land of dead heroes and see Achilles once again.

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