Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Is Tennyson's "Ulysses" autobiographical in any sense?

One could say that Tennyson's "Ulysses" is autobiographical in the sense that the poet, like the ancient Greek hero, must transcend his current situation and embark upon adventures of his own, albeit through the medium of poetry.

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When Tennyson wrote “Ulysses ,” he was still a young man, not quite in his mid-twenties. And yet the poem has a remarkable air of maturity about it that befits the ruminations of an aging king. Tennyson may have been young when he wrote the poem, but he's still...

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When Tennyson wrote “Ulysses,” he was still a young man, not quite in his mid-twenties. And yet the poem has a remarkable air of maturity about it that befits the ruminations of an aging king. Tennyson may have been young when he wrote the poem, but he's still able to enter into the soul of a man about to enter his twilight years.

That the poet is able to do so is in no small measure due to the parallels he draws between himself and the ancient Greek warrior-king. Ulysses finds that the only way he can find meaning in his life is by transcending his present condition as a bored king doling out “unequal law unto a savage race.” He aims to do this by embarking upon yet another epic journey. As the great man tells us, he cannot rest from travel.

By the same token, Tennyson, recently bereaved by the tragic loss of his good friend Hallam, needs to rise above his melancholy state and embark upon journeys of his own. To be sure, these are not the same kinds of epic, hair-raising adventures that Ulysses, complete with gods, goddesses, and strange creatures. They are poetic journeys, voyages of self-discovery through the medium of verse. In writing his poems, Tennyson hopes that he too will be able

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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