Skip to main content


Showing posts from February, 2011

Transcendence, Life and Gender in Tennyson's Ulysses

It's fairly obvious that Tennyson's 'Ulysses' is a poem that hinges on irony. Is the zeal of its aging speaker - 'to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield' in the face of mortality - epic or misguided? Do we admire Ulysses's raging against the dying of the light or do we realise a pathos in his flaws? There are a range of possible ironies tensely underwriting and unsettling the poem's single-minded rhetoric. Firstly, it is a dramatic monologue, and that genre - particularly in its Victorian form - is fundamentally built on the particularity, and potentially the misguidedness, of the imagined voice. Secondly, it was published as a diptych with the brilliant 'Tithonus', a lyric about the futility of immortality and thus one which invites a critical dialogue to open between the two texts. And, finally, it is worth remembering that the most famous literary depiction of Ulysses's last voyage was in Dante's Commedia, where the Greek hero …