Ulysses as a Victorian Poem
Ulysses is a typical Victorian poem. It has the main features of a typical Victorian poem, such as social consciousness (realism) vs. escapism, idealism, conflict between science and religion, love of nature. The Victorian age was one of energy and resolution. The people were drunk with the desire to enlarge the boundaries of knowledge to the farthest limit through scientific discoveries and inventions, to explore new lands through voyages and to extend the bounds of the British Empire through annexation. The epoch making discoveries of Charles Darwin and other scientists added to the people’s curiosity about unexplored fields of knowledge.
Ulysses is writ large with this social consciousness. Ulysses represents the energy and restless curiosity of the Victorians and their resolution to leave nothing unseen, unknown and unexplored. As Hales says, Ulysses embodies, “the modern passion for knowledge, for the exploration of its limitless fields, for the annexation of new kingdoms of science and thought.”
Ulysses is not satisfied with the knowledge and experience he has gained, because
“…..all experience is an arch wherethro
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever…..”
“To follow knowledge like a sinking star
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”
Though Ulysses reveals social consciousness it is charged with the spirit of escapism, as typical Victorian poems are. Ulysses seeks to escape from the tasks that society imposes upon him. He does not want to shoulder the responsibilities of a king. He prefers to leave them to his son Telemachus. His purpose is to work far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife—
“to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars”.
Ulysses reveals the idealism that characterizes great Victorian poems. Ulysses has seen and known much; still he is allured by the noble ideal which consists in ceaseless work till death. Old age does not mean rest from work. It has its own honour and toil. Thus he says,
“Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all; but something ere the end
Some work of noble note, may yet be done.”
Like an idealist he is fired by the aspiration for the unattainable and the infinite. So he is very eager to go out on a new voyage with his own companions in search of undiscovered shores and fresh adventures.
Victorian poetry is marked by the conflict between science and religion. Ulysses shows this conflict in the contrast of the characters of Ulysses and his son Telemachus, Ulysses embodies the Victorian passion for the exploration of new kingdoms of science and Telemachus the respect for traditional religion. When Ulysses will adventure for knowledge, his son will pay “Meek adoration to my household gods.”
Like a typical Victorian poem Ulysses gives a beautiful but accurate description of nature. The following lines,
“The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices….”
present the brilliant picture of the evening landscape of Ithaca with lights twinkling from the houses on the rocks, the moon slowly rising in the eastern sky and the sea roaring in the distance.