Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson | Questions and Answers

Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson | Questions and Answers

Ulysses Questions and Answers

  1. “It little profits…”

-Who is the hero in this poem? What is the cause behind his dissatisfaction with his life in Ithaca?

Ans. Ulysses is the hero in Tennyson’s poem, ‘Ulysses’. Ulysses is the legendary Greek hero in Homer’s epic Odyssey.

After coming back from Trojan War, Ulysses, has resumed to rule Ithaca but he feels, restless and idle among uneven landscape. The ‘Still hearth’ refers to the insipid domestic life. He feels disgust towards his lack lustre wife, Penelope. To rule his kingdom he feels fatigued as to measure out imperfect laws among his subjects who ‘hoard and sleep feed.’ They are so savage that they cannot make out his idealism and to be oneness with his strong zeal.

  1. Who was Ulysses in Tennyson’s poem Ulysees?

Ans. Ulysses is the hero of Homer’s immortal epic Odyssey. He was the king of Ithaca, a rock Island in Greece. He was the most eloquent and sagacious of the Greek heroes who took part in Trojan War. Though he faced misfortune, on his voyage home of the Trojan War, coming home he found his wife Penelope and his son still devoted to.

In Tennyson’s Ulysses, Ulysses is an epitome of the spirit of zeal for adventure and knowledge.

  1. “I will drink

Life to the lees.”

-Who is the speaker and why does he want to ‘drink life to the lees’?

Ans. The Legendary Greek hero, Ulysses is the speaker. Ulysses is an epitome of wander lust. From his voyage he gathers experiences which, in turn, brings knowledge. After traversing miles and miles, he aspires to lead life in peace in his island kingdom of Ithaca. But he is restless and disdains the leisure and contentment in life. For this he will leave nothing untested in life. He will drain the nectre of life to the dregs. He will lead a life of action and undertake to the very close.

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  1. “Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea: I am become a name.”

-What is Hyades? Explain the phrase ‘I am become a name.

Ans. In Greek ‘Hyades’ means ‘rainers’ i.e. a group of stars the rising of which indicates rain and storm. Zeus transformed them from nymphs to stars.

Ulysses says that he has been active and fearless on the land as well as on the sea. He had not shirked from facing danger even when rainy clouds flew before the swift wind and the dark sky foretold heavy rain. For this he has become famous in many lands for his spirit and adventure.

  1. “For always roaming with a hungry heart.”

-Why does the speaker utter this? What has he seen?

Ans. Ulysses is a man who tastes, life to the full and leaves nothing behind. His indomitable vigour longs for to know more and more.

Ulysses is a man of wander-lust. He travel lands after lands through various civilizations. For his adventurism he has come across with different people, their manners, their way of administration and the weather of their countries. Whenever he keeps his feet outside, he proves himself as an ardent votary of aspirations in man.

  1. “Yet all experiences is an arch whetherto.”

-Who is the utterer? Why ‘experiences’ compared to an ‘arch’?

Ans. Ulysses, the legendary Greek hero is the utterer here. Here arch’ curved structure, a gate way through which the domain of knowledge yet unseen and unknown shines with a faint light, stands for experiences which though Ulysses had experienced still to more. The more he tries to win fresh knowledge, the more there seems to be learnt. The border of the unexplored regions seems to retire before Ulysses in distance, the nearer he approaches them.

  1. “And this gray spirit yearning in desire.”

-What does ‘gray spirit’ refer to? What imagery implied here?

Ans. Ulysses, the hero of Trojan war stands for ‘gray spirit’. Ulysses’ wander-lust and quest for knowledge are compared to voyage of a ship across the ocean at night. Knowledge is here compared to a star that has sunk beneath the horizon. Just as men might follow into another heaven a star that has set in their own, so Ulysses, old as he is, eagerly desires to gain new experiences of life such as no human being has ever yet attained.

  1. “As though to breathe were life

life piled on life”

What does life actually signify to the speaker? Explain what is implied here?

Ans. Life does not mean mere breathing-being alive. Life means activity and motion. Knowledge is limit-less. Lives piled on lives are not sufficient for knowing all that there is to be known and seeing all that there is to be seen. Ulysses is given one life, and only a few years of this life remain to be lived. Life in Ithaca was for him a mere existence. So he should not rest on his Oars. Time is moving man fast to death; so he should not waste away single hour in inactivity. Moreover, an hour devoted to activity may bring him knew knowledge and may enable him to explore knew things.

  1. “To follow knowledge like a sinking star,”

-What is a sinking star? What imagery used here?

Ans. While passing below the horizon there is seen a star called a Sinking Star. Knowledge is here compared to a star that has sunk beneath the horizon. Ulysses, old as he is, eagerly, desires to gain new experiences of life such as no human being has over yet attained. These lines, embodies Ulysses’ passion for knowledge and his challenge to defy gods.

  1. Who is Ulysses’ son? How is Ulysses solely different from his son?

Ans. Telemachus is the son of Ulysses and Penelope. When Ulysses left Troy he was a mere child but when returned after twenty years he was a full grown man.

Telemachus is clever and wise enough. He carries out the duties of kingship by holding the rod of authority which is a king usually holds. He sticks to the monotonous work of governing rugged subjects. But his activity is totally different form that of Ulysses. Ulysses treats him as ‘Mine own Telemachus’ to his comrades but, in him, the father found the want of passion for wander and knowledge. Ulysses longs for to be escaped from the boredom and hustle and bustle of life while Telemachus glues to the throne of Ithaca. Really, Telemachus is a foil to that of his father.

  1. “This is my son…..

He works his work, I mine.”

-Who are the person referred to here and what work does each of them do? What is the significance of this line?

Ans. Ulysses and Telemachus are the two persons referred to here. On them civilizations for ages progresses-One is the epitome of man’s inborn quest for knowledge and the other the epitome of duty performed at home. Ulysses travels and acquires knowledge while Telemachus performs his duties at home as a king.

Ulysses and Telemachus represent two kinds of activity. Telemachus is central in the sphere of the common duties of life. He represents a large number of people who are less adventurous in spirit, toil for the preservation and continuation of gains won by their more adventurous fellows. But, Ulysses represents a few who are in quest for knowledge. They undertake great risks to break new grounds. They propel civilization from higher to higher stages. Both keep the wheel of civilization in motion for all ages to come.

  1. “You and I are old;

…………but something ere the end.

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,”

-Does the speaker feel any dejection? What work is undone still not completed?

Ans. These lines express Ulysses’ resolve to go out again exploring new lands and acquiring new experience. He finds it dull to live a life of ease and comfort at home enjoying the warm company of his aged wife and ruling a savage people. He calls upon his old mariners to start on a fresh voyage so that they can explore a new land still to be explored before they die.

  1. “For my purpose holds”

To sail beyond the sunset, and the b ths

Of all the western stars, until I die.”

-Who is the speaker? What is meant by ‘beyond the sunset’ and ‘the baths of all the western stars? What do the two expressions establish?

Ans. Ulysses, the legendary Greek hero is the speaker. ‘Beyond the sunset’ represents the western horizon where the sun gradually merges into the darkness of night. The ‘baths of all the western stars’ represent the place in the western sea where the stars take their bath i.e. go down in the sea.

Both expressions establish man’s eternal quest for knowledge and unfulfilled lust for adventure.

  1. “It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.”

-Who is Achilles? What is ‘Happy Isles’?

Ans. Achilles is the hero of Homer’s Iliad. He was the son of Peleus and Thetis. He was one of the Greek heroes of Trojan War. He slew the Trojan prince Hector. Ulysses longs for to come across Achilles after crossing the happy isles which is known as a group of islands off the coast of Africa. The Greeks called these islands their earthly paradise where the Greeks could reach after the end of life. Ulysses knows that the ocean may devour him but he is courageous to face the challenge.

  1. “……………..heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

-Of what ‘heroic hearts’ does the speaker speak? Relate the implication of ‘time’ and ‘fate’ here? Do you find any symbolism here?

Ans. Ulysses, the Greek hero by ‘heroic hearts’, refers to himself and his mariners who accompanied him in his exploration of lands and seas.

Here ‘time’ refers to the old age of the brave mariners. ‘Fate’ here refers to the uphill journey of life and misfortunes faced by the mariners during their travel over lands and voyage overseas.

Symbolically, these lines represent man’s ceaseless work till death. Ulysses’ indomitable will holds the key to life’s success on earth and never to admit defeat.

  1. Do you find any conflict between Science and Religion?

Ans. Tennyson’s Ulysses shows the conflict between science and religion 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 respects for traditional religion. When Ulysses will adventure for knowledge, his son will pay ‘meek adoration to my household gods”.

  1. “How dull it is to pause, to make an end to rust unburnish’d not to shine in used!”

-Give the meaning of these lines.

Ans. The Greek legendary hero Ulysses, reflects that shallowness of existence is like a spiritual decay in a critical moment as if he has paused and come to a sudden end which is very insipid. He bewails for his life which is like an iron-work which rusts when left not be used. He craves to be existed with renewed force.

  1. ‘I will drink life to the lees’-Explain.

Ans. This wine metaphor is used by Ulysses, the king of Ithaca to indicate the significance of life. Ulysses is a man of activities and he believes that the glory of life lies in the very use of it. A drunkard enjoys the wine to the last drop and does not spoil it at all. Ulysses also taking life to be a cup of wine wants to utilize this properly. Because he knows that there is no end of learning in this life. He will leave nothing untested in this life. So he says “I can’t rest from travel’. However, this great idea of Ulysses gets an extra value when it is employed by the wine metaphor.

  1. What is the motto of Ulysses’ life?

Ans. Ulysses was a legendary Greek hero who took part in the Trojan War and who is made the hero in Homer’s epic “Odyssey”

Ulysses’ motto of life is really very striking. Generally old men prefer to enjoy rest in their old age. But Ulysses though an aged man wants to acquire more and more knowledge like a sinking star. He is not satisfied with what he has. He will make voyage to the unknown world and will remain busy up to the very end of his life because he believes “-To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

  1. ‘To rust unburnished not to shine in use’-Explain

Ans. It is an example of sword metaphor, which is used by Ulysses in the context of acquiring knowledge and employing life in the proper way. A thing made of iron gets rusty if it is not used regularly. But it shines duly when it is in use. Human life is also like that. The proper meaning of life is the usage of it. If we make an end to our activities, our life will be dull and meaningless and due to this we will be deprived of bright, colourful and shining life. Moreover, there is no end of acquiring knowledge. We have to engage our lives up to our death and gather personal knowledge in such a style which we cannot think of. If we can do this; our life will be glorious. Otherwise, it is bound to get lost like a rusty weapon as sword.

  1. Give the meaning of “Hyades”.

Ans. It is a Greek word which means rainers. It is actually a group of seven stars in the head of the constellation Taurus, They are so called because they give the prediction of storm and rain and is accompanied by them. Hyades were previously ‘nymphs’ who were rewarded by Zeus and transformed into stars.

  1. Who is Achilles and what is Happy Isles?

Ans. Achilles was a great Greek hero in the Trojan War. He is made the hero of Homer’s great epic Illiad. He was the terror of Troy and slayer of Hector. Ulysses wanted to meet with this great hero.

Happy Isles is believed to be Elysium by the Greeks at the west coast of Africa. The ancient Greeks believed that all the great Greek heroes who die take their shelter in this Happy Isles. To the people, it was an earthly paradise. Ulysses made a frantic effort to reach this place, taking countless risks.

  1. How does Ulysses glorify old days?

Ans. Though we take a common view towards old age, Ulysses idealizes it in a new style. To him, human life is made for only work and work. So every hour is very very important to us. If we think that we have done a few good deeds and spend our old days in peace and rest, it is wrong. Death is inevitable to us. So its greatness lies in the fact that life should be used all time for this or that. In old days, we may lose youthful vigour, strength but our temper and will must remain the same. And this will help us to do some great deeds. It will be a wrong interpretation if anyone thinks that old days give no fruit. Because oftentimes it is seen that there are some people who have done a lot in their old days compared to young age.

  1. “Life piled on life were all too little” – Explain.

Ans. This is Ulysses’ outlook on life. The span of human life is very short. But the stock of knowledge is ‘limitless and infinite’. It is our duty to acquire knowledge until we die. What is most striking is that not only one life but also a dozen life is not sufficient to gather this knowledge fully. So Ulysses is of the view that life piled on life were all too little. We don’t know whether we get another life beyond this. So what is our duty as Ulysses proposes is to utilize every moment in the peruse of knowledge because every moment we are taken one step forward towards the entrance of eternity.

  1. What is the date of composition of the poem and on what occasion?

Ans. ‘Ulysses’ was written soon after Arthur Hallam’s death, in 1842 out of Tennyson’s feeling about the need of going forward, and braving the struggle of life perhaps more simply than anything in In Memoriam. What is the rhyme scheme of the poem?. The poem does not follow any pattern as such and is unrhyming in nature.

  1. What is the poem based on and what quality does Tennyson assign his hero?

Ans. The poem was based on a passage in Dante’s Inferno, canto XXVI. Arthur Hallam had drawn Tennyson to a study of Dante and the poem was composed soon after the former death. Interestingly, while Tennyson exalts his hero’s eternally restless aspiration, Dante had condemned his curiosity and presumption. Both poets recalled Odyssey, XI, 100-37, where the ghost foretold Ulysses’ fortune.

  1. What type of a poem is “Ulysses”? 

Ans. Tennyson cast the poem in the mould of a dramatic monologue with the great Greek hero of yore, Ulysses as the speaker who narrates his life. He also reveals his character and philosophy and the listeners can be identified in his mariners, who respond to his appeals and cravings. But it should be remembered that the poem is not the caliber of a Browning or a Donne or an Eliot, lacking in subtle description of the background or the nuances of characterization, among other things.

  1. What attitude towards life is presented by Tennyson in the poem?

Ans. Using the great Greek hero Ulysses and his eternally restless aspiration, Tennyson has opined that life is meant for incessant work and sloth is comparable to death. Life is a long winding journey from the realm of the unknown to the kingdom of knowledge and awareness and to be successful is such a journey, man needs to be eternally craving for more.

  1. What are unequal laws?

Ans. It is a reference to the then Greek administration which had two sets of laws for any crime. Thus while the upper aristocratic class had lenient and convenient laws, the laws were very discriminatory and oppressive for the lower ones.

  1. Who have been called ‘a savage race’ and why?

Ans. The Greeks have been termed a savage race by none other than their ruler Ulysses. He calls them savage because they live an idle and ignorant life, spending time in food and drink and sloth and have no desire for knowledge. And most importantly, they don’t even have the know-how to understand the greatness of their ruler.

  1. Who says “I will drink life to the lees” and why?

Ans. The great Greek hero Ulysses says this in Tennyson’s poem ‘Ulysses’. Through these words, Ulysses reveals that he is a man of action and kinesis who would drink every drop from the cup of life. Here life has been compared to a cup of wine which leaves a residue at the bottom and is usually not tasted. This substance at the bottom of the bottle of wine should not be wasted, just like the precious moments that life is made of and used to the fullest according to Ulysses.

  1. What is Rainy Hyades?

Ans. The Hyades are a group of seven stars which rise with the sun in spring at the rainy season.

  1. Who says “I am become a name” and why?

Ans. Ulysses the legendary Greek hero says this in Tennyson’s poem ‘Ulysses’. It speaks of the fame that Ulysses had garnered through his exploits in the battlefield and at sea. Hence, in the Greek world, the name of Ulysses has come to stand for greatness and bravery.

  1. What does Ulysses mean by “To rust unburnished, not to shine in use”?

Ans. The line is based on a line in Shakespeare’s drama ‘Troilus and Cressida‘ where Ulysses tells Achilles “Quite out of fashion like a rusty nail”. Ulysses hates a life of sloth and rest and he says that if one were to spend his life lazily and without seeking adventure, he would soon rust like a nail after prolonged no use. The body is like a metal which needs regular polishing or activity to retain its shine.

  1. Explain: “To follow knowledge like a sinking star”.

Ans. Ulysses refers to himself as the grey spirit and with an simile draws a parallel with his pursuit for knowledge with man’s attempt to reach a falling star he desires to follow the star of knowledge till the edge of the world and beyond, till the end of his life.

  1. Who is Telemachus? What does Ulysses think about him?

Ans. Telemachus is Ulysses’ son and sole heir to his kingdom of the island of Ithaca after him. Apparently, Ulysses seems to praise his only son who would rule over the savage race and would slowly and surely try to make them savage. He has a goal of civilizing him men and Ulysses feels that he would succeed with his perseverance. But beneath the veneer of praise lies a very subtle and gentle note of irony and denunciation at Telemachus’ lack of vivacity and adventurous idealism.

  1. Who says: “Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world” and why?  

Ans. Occurring in Tennyson’s poem ‘Ulysses’, the lines are uttered by the great Greek hero Ulysses and addressed to his sailors who have so long been beside in sun and rain. Now, at an old age, he has decided that to rest is a crime and he should set sail once again to discover still undiscovered worlds and live once again the previous life of adventure and peril.

  1. Explain: “To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars until I die”

Ans. In Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses decides that he would like to set sail once again and traverse the world with his mates. And going by the Greek belief of the earth being flat, Ulysses says that he wants to go beyond the place where all stars sink into the earth encompassing water mass called ocean. In Dante, Ulysses had sailed to the outer limit, the edge of the ocean and having seen purgatory was swallowed by the waves.

  1. What is meant by the Happy Isles?

Ans. The Happy Isles are referred to the islands of the blessed which are supposed to lie to the west of the Pillars of Hercules in the Atlantic Ocean. It is the place called Elysium according to Greek mythology where the blessed or Greek heroes like Achilles enjoy life after death.

  1. Explain: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”

Ans. The last line of Tennyson’s poem on the Greek hero Ulysses by the same name sums the exploratory mood and unyielding nature of the thespian leader. Realizing a desire from the past and refusing to enjoy a life of sloth even in his golden days, Ulysses wants to once again set forth with his mates to conquer the world. He requests them to strive and seek, endeavour and find new lands. He wants them to adopt the motto of never accepting defeat and discover newer lands.

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