In the poem "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, an aged Ulysses, having finally returned safely to his homeland from his long odyssey after the Trojan War, sits in idleness on his throne and contemplates going on another adventure. He wants to leave his "aged wife" and the "savage race" of people that he rules and venture forth on the seas one more time. He supposes that he will leave "the septre and the isle" with his son Telemachus, who will rule in his place.
We see an old man who has returned home after many hardships. After he has settled down, he realizes that he felt more fulfilled during his adventurous journey than he does while undertaking his responsibilities as a ruler. In this poem, Ulysses is a complex character. There are numerous words that we could use to describe characteristics that he displays.
First of all, he is dissatisfied with the life that he is now living, so he longs to escape it. He is restless when he compares the serenity and inactivity of his present state with the constant adventures and dangers of the past. He is anxious to be gone again and to seek out new lands and new activities. He is aware of his impending death, and instead of staying in one place and waiting for it, he longs to go forth and meet it.
Along with all of these other characteristics, Ulysses is unwise, irresponsible, and selfish. He is not thinking of his wife, his son, or his people, but only of himself and his own desires. As the ruler of a "rugged people," as well as a husband and father, he should stay and take care of the people he is tasked with governing. Many in positions of responsibility long to run away and be free of the dependence of others, but that is not what a mature, thoughtful, and considerate person does. An ethical person doesn't run away, but stays and fulfills his responsibilities.
A clue to how Ulysses is feeling in this poem can be found in another poem about Ulysses called "Ithaka" by C. P. Cavafy. The poet stresses that as you journey homeward towards Ithaka (Ulysses' homeland) travelers should hope their journey takes a long time. The journey itself is full of excitement and wonder. When one finally makes it home, they may be disappointed. Ithaka is the destination at the end of a journey, not a middle stage in the journey. Once you have reached Ithaka, the voyager has come to the journey's end.
We see, then, that the main characteristic that Ulysses displays in the poem "Ulysses" is the disappointment of an old man who has come to the end of his journey but wishes that it was not over. However, in the course of his musings, he also displays the characteristics of dissatisfaction, restlessness, anxiousness, lack of wisdom, irresponsibility, selfishness, and awareness of his impending death.