by Alfred Tennyson
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
Reference:– These lines have been taken from the poem “Ulysses” written in 1833 by Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson and published in 1842. The poem is based on “Odyssey”, written by the Greek poet Homer.
Context :– ‘Ulysses’ is written in a form of dramatic monologue. The poet has described about a person who is in search for adventure, experience and meaning which makes the life worth living. Tennyson used Ulysses as the old adventure, unwilling to accept the setting of an old age, longing for one more quest. The poet also wrote this poem in memory of his friend Arthur Hallam. The poem is narrated by one single character who himself reveals his own identity.
Explanation:- The given lines establishes the speaker’s discontent in its first words, “it little profits”, and goes on to describe the role of king in negative, unhappening terms, the land his rules is seen as “these barren crags”, his wife “aged” and even the traditionally most comforting image of home life, the fireplace hearth is “still” offering no warmth. The king’s subjects are described as a “savage race”, and their actions, sleeping and eating are basic animal behaviour; the only thing they do that might require human thought, the capacity to see beyond the immediate moment is the greedy act of hoarding. Here, Tennyson gently implies ‘Ulysses’ wisdom by making him realize that a king and his subjects are not suited if they can not understand each other. He also implies that there is a bit of egotism involved in Ulysses part by having him phrase the misunderstanding in this way, instead of “I know not them” or “we know not each other”.
‘Ulysses’ poem is written in blank verse and unrhymed iambic pentameter, which serves to impart a fluid and natural quality to Ulysses’s speech. Many of the lines are enjambed, which means that a thought does not end with the line break. The use of enjambment is appropriate in a poem about pushing forward “beyond the utmost bound of human thought”.
Critical Comments:- One of the critic W.W. Robson writes that the poem brings in together the two conflicting sides of Tennyson-one is “the responsible social being” and the other “melancholic poet”. Though they come together in the text of the poem, they do not recognize each other. Furthermore, Tennyson wrote Ulysses after the death of his Cambridge friend, the poet Arthur Henry Hallam, who was extremely dear to him. As per the Victorian critic Linda Hughes, the “emotional gulf between the state of his domestic affairs and the loss of his special friendship informs the reading of Ulysses, particularly its treatment of domesticity.