What is Ulysses' opinion of retirement?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tennyson's Ulysses, who narrates the poem, does not believe in retirement at any age. His whole life has been an adventure and a struggle, and he is not willing to give up that way of life regardless of his increasing age and declining strength. Towards the end of the poem he calls to those of his followers who are still alive after all the dangers experienced in Homer's epic poem:

Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
Evidently Tennyson read Homer's Odyssey as a tribute to the human spirit of adventure, discovery, strength and enterprise, a glorious contest of man against nature. This attitude resembles the well-known quote from Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. The old fisherman Santiago is exhausted, but he refuses to give up.
"But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated."