What is Ulysses' opinion of retirement in "Ulysses"?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The construction of Ulysses in Tennyson's poem is one that dislikes retirement.  Essentially, Tennyson constructs a character who cannot return to the life of domesticity.  After enduring so very much in his trials to get back home, Tennyson argues that Ulysses would have a difficult time putting this aside and returning to the life of the simple husband and father in Ithaca:  "Tennyson’s Ulysses refuses to accept a gentle death... He returns home with his men but becomes bored and leaves again."  For Ulysses, retirement is something to be dreaded because it helps to deaden the sensibilities that helped to forge and create greatness.  The idea of being retired, or remaining home, is one that Tennyson's Ulysses rejects because it denies the opportunity to touch greatness, to achieve a level of arete or glory that would never be achieved with the banal domestic life featured in retirement.  In the closing lines of the poem, this is the most evident as Tennyson's protagonist goes back out on the dangerous seas "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."  This ending rejects retirement seeing it as the static life, as opposed to one of dynamic vitality.

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