Answer: Though it is believed that Tennyson composed Ulysses soon after the death of Arthur Hallamto shake off the deep shock the poem is largely an embodiment Victorian spirit, After Hallam’s death the poet felt the need for going forward and braving the struggle of life but the poem is more than that personal issue. The poet successfully changes the personal feeling into impersonal spirit, by choosing a suitable mythical character. The poet takes the advantage of presenting national philosophy of action and adventure in an objective way.
Tennyson chose Ulysses, the mythical hero, as the speaker of this poem. Ulysses, Returned home after twenty years. But the old warrior who fought in the Trojan War could not enjoy the bliss of family life. His heroic spirit yearned for more knowledge and adventures. So, he made arrangements for a new adventure. This philosophy of action and adventure of Ulysses has been suggested in this poem.
The Victorian period is well-known for its enrichment of knowledge, expansion of empire and growth of economy, the age had this spirit. The mythical Ulysses in this this poem a adequately reflects spirit because he also has an indomitable spirit. His wife, son and kingdom appear dull to him. Life without adventures is equal to self-killing. He says:
“How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unfurnished, not to shine in use!”
Only living through breathing is not life to him. “Life piled on life” is not enough to acquire the knowledge his heart yearns for. So, this short life must be carefully used for some “noble note”. He is ready to embrace death, if necessary, in pursuit of knowledge. He is confident that he still has the strong will “To strive,to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Tennyson uses this spirit of Ulysses to represent the Victorian philosophy of life. Victorian people, like Ulysses, believed in action, not in mere living. They, in fact, thrived in action—in geographical and philosophical explorations. In this poem Tennyson successfully captures that spirit of his period.
“Ulysses”, therefore, represents Victorian desires, aspirations for adventures. It captures the whole gamut of life in the Victorian period. Like mythical Ulysses, the Victorians were undaunted in making all out efforts to know the unknown and expose the yet unexplored areas of physical and abstract world.