How does Tennyson use poetic methods in Ulysses? - Sample Essay
Tennyson sets the narrative as king Ulysses from the beginning of the poem. This means the reliability of the narrator is considerably greater than if it were for example a third person narrative. Tennyson may have used this method of telling the story to expel any sense of doubt tin the reader about the events that are happening, as the poem is about a king- from a king’s perspective. In comparison however, this could add the possibility of bias to the poem. King Ulysses tells the reader of his travels, and heavily portrays himself as somewhat heroic; he has travelled far, fought hard and lived life to the maximum.
However he is now stuck at home as an old man- this could mean he is exaggerates the memories he has to the reader, purely for impact, possibly meaning we as the reader do not get a balanced picture of everything that he describes such as his wife being “aged” and that being all the information we receive about her. In the first stanza, Ulysses describes his current situation. He begins by describing his surroundings and role as king as very dull and drab. Tennyson immediately paints the reader a picture of a man who is unhappy.
By using language like “still hearth” and “I mete an dole”, we start to understand that he feels stuck; he doesn’t enjoy his role and something is clearly missing from his life, the “still hearth” being a metaphor for his loss of passion and burning drive. By this point we can identify the poem to be a dramatic monologue. Tennyson may have chosen to make the poem a dramatic monologue as it enhances our understanding of Ulysses- it presents Ulysses’ interests, temperament and character, adding effect to the poem.
It is much easier to empathise with Ulysses this way. It allows Tennyson to add subjective emphasis to what he chooses, providing a clearer image of Ulysses as a character. Further on in the first part, Ulysses begins to describe his past. This is a crucial part in the structure of the poem, as it becomes evident that it is in a fractured chronological order; throughout the poem Ulysses is speaking in the present moment, but the subjects he chooses to cover are ordered past, present and future.
In this section, Ulysses presents heroic and valiant scenarios into the readers mind: “Roaming with a hungry heart” suggesting he enjoyed life and all that came with it, and through images like “Thro scudding drifts” and “climates, councils, governments… but honour’d of them all”. Ulysses describes everything he has done previously in his life with such passion, compared to the stillness in the first few lines. Tennyson may have chosen to do this to allow the reader to immediately know that Ulysses is old, has lived his life, and is angry that he is unable to travel anymore.
The emotive language used in “hungry heart” and “scudding drifts” just add further emphasis to how strongly he feels about these experiences. Tennyson also uses enjambment to emphasis words like “greatly” and “gleams”, showing once again his passion. Tennyson uses several language techniques, such as metaphors when Ulysses describes his situation “to rust unburnish’d” suggests he is decaying and not being put to use. He also uses assonance to emphasise a particular line; “I am a part of all that I have met”- the repetition of the ‘a’ sound making the line stand out and become prominent when reading the line.
By the second section, Ulysses describes his son to the reader with relative pride, though it is questionable. Structurally, this stanza is notably shorter than the others, possibly inferring it is the least important in Ulysses eyes. It could be argues that Ulysses describes Telemachus in a very cold way- we as the reader do not feel like these are the words of a loving farther, and likewise suggest that he is quite distant.
Although he mentions how his son is “well loved” of him, he later says, at the thought of his own death, “he works his work, I work mine. ” The full stop possibly suggesting that is the end; if Ulysses were to die he plans to let Telemachus get on with it. However, he clearly believes Telemachus is much better suited to be king then he is “by slow prudence to make mild a rugged people”- suggesting Telemachus will put in the time and patience needed to be king and to subdue the people.
This whole stanza is told in the present (correlating with the sense of chronological order) and is told almost like he is observing his son in that very moment. In the next section Ulysses describes his mariners with much more gumption than he did his son or wife- by this point the reader perceives Ulysses as a fairly selfish and arrogant persona, he seems driven purely by what he wants, and pays little attention to his family.
Yet, upon seeing his mariners he is full of kind words about them, because they were part of his fulfilling past. Tennyson would have done this in order to remind the reader of the possible bias and lack of validity in what Ulysses is saying. He describes the mariners as “souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought” ‘wrought’ and ‘thought’ being assonance- he is beginning to regain some of the passion we see in section one when talking about his mariners, but none when he is talking about his son.
Ulysses’ describes the port, and how the ship “puffs her sail”- puff being onomatopoeia and also suggesting the ship is Impatient to leave; when this is simply personification. He is presenting the ship being impatient, when it is really him that wants to leave. At this point Tennyson swaps to the future. The chronological order now becomes apparent, section 1 being his past, 2 being the present and his son, 3 being his thoughts of sailing away in the future.
The effect of this being a sense of ending- Ulysses starts the poem with no passion and drive, by the end he wishes to sail away, even though he is “made weak by time and fate” he is once again “strong in will to strive, to seek, to find” In conclusion, Tennyson uses several methods to do a number of things: he paints a clear picture of Ulysses and his character. As the reader we gain a deep insight into Ulysses’ thoughts and characteristics, helping us to understand the situation more, this being very effective as a method of telling the story.
Tennyson also uses the idea of chronological ordering to add a sense of wholeness to the poem- Ulysses is more alive at the end then he was in the beginning. The language Tennyson uses when describing Ulysses’ past, and the thought of travelling the world, is very effective in showing us what it is Ulysses really cares about, and what it is that he doesn’t. the reader clearly understands that he feels stagnant in the present and alive at the thought of further travel.