What does Ulysses think of the people of his kingdom in "Ulysses"?

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In the poem "Ulysses," Tennyson presents the aging monarch back in his kingdom after his numerous adventures. He longs to take ship with his mariners on one last voyage to accomplish, as he says, "something ere the end, some work of noble note...not unbecoming men who strove with Gods." In this respect, Ulysses sees the people of his kingdom as a burden that he would like to pass on to his son, Telemachus, so that he might be free. It is significant, however, that though he pines for the opportunity to be gone, Ulysses remains in his kingdom and successfully overcomes the temptation to abandon his subjects. He must, therefore, see his people as worthy of governing, as he has stayed with them despite his daydreams of further adventure.

In the course of the poem, Ulysses describes his people as "a savage race, that hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me." Later, he expresses the thought that his son can "make mild a rugged people, and thro' soft degrees subdue them to the useful and the good." From these lines, we gather that Ulysses considers the people of his kingdom to be savage, rugged, and perhaps difficult to govern, but he has hopes that with the right leadership, they will be capable of becoming better, milder, and more useful.

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The emphasis in Tennyson's poem, "Ulysses," is not on the failings of the people of Ithaca, although they are mentioned.  Most of what is revealed about them is contained in lines four and five:  they are "savage" and "hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me." 

The people of Ithaca, then, in the speaker's view, are violent, uneducated, obsessively hoard food, etc., do nothing but eat and sleep, and don't understand Ulysses.  Presumably, they don't know what they have in the hero of The Odyssey.  Presumably, they don't honor and listen to him as they should.

The people are also "rugged," as mentioned in line 37.  It will take a calm, mild-mannered, diplomatic man like Telemachus to "Subdue them to the useful and the good."  Ulysses is an adventurer and a warrior, not a diplomatic leader, according to the poem.

Tennyson presents Ulysses as somewhat of an artist.  His adventures are artistic.  His mindset is not that of a diplomat.  He longs to be off on an adventure, and he wants to leave the leadership of his people to someone else. 

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