Words and lines from Tennyson's "Ulysses
" that reflect how life is much more than mere breathing explain how a person's life has to be defined with purpose and meaning.
In Tennyson's poem, Ulysses is faced with a defining choice. He can either stay in Ithaca with his wife and serve his kingdom or go back out to the seas to confront the challenges that await. He finds himself poised between domestic predictability or the uncertain future of what lies ahead. One indication of the choice he is going to make is when he says, "I will drink / Life to the lees." Ulysses sees life as only having purpose when it is fully embraced. He does not see this purpose as merely breathing. Ulysses lives his life with a "hungry heart." These reflect his views of life. They reflect passion and vitality, a duty to fight the elements until the very end and never relent. Ulysses does not feel that life is about merely breathing, pathetically existing from one moment to another. Rather, he feels that an individual must possess a zeal for living. Ulysses believes that people are active agents of their own destinies, authors of their own narratives.
Ulysses speaks of the dangers in not living life to its fullest capacity. He wonders "How dull it is to pause, to make an end, / To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!" He considers it a waste of a life to merely exist. Rather, he feels that people must see life as "yearning in desire / To follow knowledge like a sinking star." Living life means understanding the world and one's place in it. There is no defined end to this pursuit, as Ulysses says it should continue "Beyond the utmost bound of human thought." Ulysses does not believe that his journey has ended simply because he has returned home. The journey of life never ends. Rather, he feels that his life, and all life, must be dedicated to the idea that "Some work of noble note, may yet to be done." There will always be more adventures to experience, more horizons to explore, more chapters to write in the book of one's life. Ulysses is not going to live in a banal way by merely breathing and existing. Rather, he is insistent that his "purpose holds / To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars, until I die." These words make clear that Ulysses defines life as living the journey and facing whatever awaits him on it.
In the poem's closing lines, Ulysses affirms how life is more than breathing. These thoughts define what he sees as the meaning to all existence:
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.
Ulysses will live his life fighting all adversaries. This includes the effects of time and age, and anything else that might dare to cross him. Even though he might not succeed in all of these battles, he promises "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." It affirms how life is much more than simply existing. It consists of the will to persevere through challenges, and to zealously anticipate what comes next. Ulysses does not know what the future holds. However, that is an integral part of what makes life worth living, making it much more than merely breathing.