Tennyson's Poems

Fading Margins: Adventure and Transience in “Ulysses” and “The Seafarer”

Both Lord Alfred Tennyson’s dramatic monologue, “Ulysses,” and Ezra Pound’s 1912 translation of the Old English dramatic monologue “The Seafarer” depict a man’s musings about seaward journeys. Tennyson wrote “Ulysses” in the wake of his best friend Arthur Henry Hallam’s death. “The Seafarer” has traditionally been recognised for its overtly elegiac overtones. One may assume that their similarity in setting and style would thus render thematic parallels. In fact, as this paper will attempt to demonstrate by analysing sound elements and syntactic components, the poems’ thematic interests are similar, but in intentional stance, incommensurable. The former poem looks optimistically—even idealistically— to the human capacity to embrace change and adventure, while the latter reflects mournfully on the transience and loss inherent to human existence.

Ulysses’ active voice, rich in direct syntax, can sustain long sentences while maintaining a powerful, regal tone befitting a king. Like “The Seafarer,” the speaker muses upon his surroundings rather than himself: “By this still hearth, among these barren crags, / matched with an aged wife,” (2-3) but reveals himself through this process: “I am a part of all that I have met,” (18). This...

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