In attempting to convince his friends to accompany him on one final adventure, the great mariner Ulysses craftily reminds them of some key points. First, he reminds them of all the adventures they have had together in juxtaposition with the quiet, inactive lives they currently lead as they age. Ulysses is hungry for more adventure and cannot go to his death without having at least one more. He tells his mariners,
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life!
Ulysses now reminds them that a dull life of inactivity is no life at all. He longs to feel useful and important, and to live fully. As the king, he has no opportunity for adventure any longer; in fact, he has no opportunity to do anything except rule the kingdom from his throne. Here, Tennyson cautions us to live unrelentingly. If we do nothing with our lives, we waste precious time, because breathing is not synonymous with living.
Ulysses also tells his friends,
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done.
He wants the sailors to understand that time is ticking, and there is no going back. While they can never regain their youth, they certainly should not give in to old age just yet. They still have the strength and will to have one more adventure. They were honorable when they were young because they fought bravely and did not give in to any obstacles. Here, Tennyson makes clear that we must understand the inevitable—that all life ends in death—but we do not have to submit to it. We can meet age with dignity if we continue to take risks and strive to live full lives.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not...
(The entire section is 502 words.)