Tennyson responds to the issues of Victorian Age in his own way. He believes in giving his people strong political and household leaders. Do you agree? Discuss with reference to his poem "Ulysses."

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is certainly something that can be argued from the lines of this poem. After all, Ulysses, in his desire to go and leave his responsibilities as king of Ithaca, works hard to ensure that he leaves a suitable replacement behind so that he is not simply abandoning his people to mere anarchy without any form of leadership at all. Note how Ulysses refers to his son in this poem:

This is my son, mine own Telemachos,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone.  He works his work, I mine.

It is clear from this quote that Ulysses feels that his son, Telemachos, will in many ways do a better job than he did, and that he is more suited to the role of king of Ithace than his father ever was. Note how Telemachos is characterised: he has a desire to take on and "fulfill" the labour of being a king, which Ulysses describes in a rather arduous and backbreaking way, as it involves "slow prudence" and is a "labour." Telemachos in addition is "blameless" and "decent" and also pious in the way that he will ensure the household gods receive sufficient worshp and adoration when Ulysses is gone. However, what is clear from the final sentence of this quote is that Ulysses indicates that his "work" is a different one from his son's and therefore signals that they are different people with different gifts and abilities, perhaps indicating the reason for his decision to seek adventure one more time. The poem therefore indicates the belief that Tennyson had in strong leadership, but the problem is that it also seems to present a very ambiguous picture of Ulysses himself: in one sense, he is willfully abandoning his roles and responsibilities to seek adventure in a rather reckless way. The reader is left with the impression that he cannot be considered to be a very good leader if he places satisfying his own needs and pleasures above those of his people.

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