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Short poem

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)


              1It little profits that an idle king,
              2By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
              3Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
              4Unequal laws unto a savage race,
              5That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
              6I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
              7Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
              8Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
              9That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
            10Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
            11Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
            12For always roaming with a hungry heart
            13Much have I seen and known; cities of men
            14And manners, climates, councils, governments,
            15Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
            16And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
            17Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
            18I am a part of all that I have met;
            19Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
            20Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
            21For ever and forever when I move.
            22How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
            23To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
            24As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
            25Were all too little, and of one to me
            26Little remains: but every hour is saved
            27From that eternal silence, something more,
            28A bringer of new things; and vile it were
            29For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
            30And this gray spirit yearning in desire
            31To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
            32Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

            33      This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
            34To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,--
            35Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
            36This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
            37A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
            38Subdue them to the useful and the good.
            39Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
            40Of common duties, decent not to fail
            41In offices of tenderness, and pay
            42Meet adoration to my household gods,
            43When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

            44      There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
            45There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
            46Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me--
            47That ever with a frolic welcome took
            48The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
            49Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
            50Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
            51Death closes all: but something ere the end,
            52Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
            53Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
            54The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
            55The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
            56Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
            57'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
            58Push off, and sitting well in order smite
            59The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
            60To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
            61Of all the western stars, until I die.
            62It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
            63It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
            64And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
            65Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
            66We are not now that strength which in old days
            67Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
            68One equal temper of heroic hearts,
            69Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
            70To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


1] "Ulysses was written soon after Arthur Hallam's death, and gave my feeling about the need of going forward, and braving the struggle of life perhaps more simply than anything in In Memoriam" (Tennyson). Based on a passage in Dante's Inferno, canto XXVI. Hallam had drawn Tennyson to a study of Dante. Tennyson exalts his hero's eternally restless aspiration, whereas Dante condemned his curiosity and presumption. Both poets recalled Odyssey, XI, 100-37, where the ghost foretold Ulysses' fortune.

10] Rainy Hyades: a group of stars which rise with the sun in spring at the rainy season.

34] the isle: Ithaca, of which Ulysses was king.

60-61] the baths: the place where the stars seem to plunge into the ocean.

62] wash us down: The ocean was imagined by Homer as a river encompassing the earth, and on the west plunging down a vast chasm where was the entrance of Hades.

63] the Happy Isles: the islands of the blessed, supposed to lie to the west of the Pillars of Hercules, i.e., in the Atlantic.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Alfred lord Tennyson, Poems, 2 vols. (Boston: W. D> Ticknor, 1842). PR 5550 E42a Victoria College Library (Toronto). Alfred lord Tennyson, Works (London: Macmillan, 1891). tenn T366 A1 1891a Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1842
RPO poem editor: H. M. McLuhan
RP edition: 3RP 3.45.
Recent editing: 2:2002/1/17

Rhyme: unrhyming

Other poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson