"How Dull It Is To Pause, To Make An End, To Rust Unburnished"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As in "The Lotos-Eaters," Tennyson takes the theme of this poem from the Odyssey. But, in contrast to "The Lotos-Eaters," "Ulysses," written a short time after the death of the poet's friend Hallam, expresses the value of "going forward and braving the struggle of life." Ulysses, now an old man, is tired of his dull life on his barren island: "Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole/ Unequal laws unto a savage race,/ That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me./ I cannot rest from travel; I will drink/ Life to the lees." He has thoroughly enjoyed the adventures and hardships of his colorful life, and he savors his fame: "I am become a name;/ For always roaming with a hungry heart/ Much have I seen and known . . . I am a part of all that I have met. . . ." He sees that knowledge and experience are like the horizon: their "margin fades/ Forever and forever when I move." He may never reach complete knowledge and ultimate experience, but the quest itself is a victory over the "eternal silence" of approaching death:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.