R. F. Storch


THE FUGITIVE FROM THE
ANCESTRAL HEARTH:
TENNYSON'S "ULYSSES"

We commonly underestimate the vulgarity of great poems, the coarseness of appetite with which they incorporate a mixture of ideas and feelings that cannot be harmoniously connected. E. M. Forster's "only connect" is the watchword of a finely discriminating, critical mind; but our civilization, our life-style, may contain unresolvable and conflicting attitudes, and may indeed be given a characteristic imprint by them. It is true that poets have often addressed themselves to the rectification of moral confusion—and in the very act revealed rather uncivilized motives. Dr. Johnson found "Lycidas" offensive for the intrusion into the elegiac occasion of egocentric concerns, for the mixture of pastoral convention, private anxieties and public issues. Similarly, Tennyson's "Ulysses" has given offense with its coarseness of sentiment at the beginning and stridency of tone at the end. The hero's plainness of speech in leaving behind "an aged wife" and "a savage race / That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me" has in recent years been judged harsh and irreconcilable with the noble aspirations voiced at the heart of the poem. The modern critic knows, however, to guard his sensibility and the poet's reputation against such painful incongruities. He dissociates Tennyson as well as himself from the hero's coarseness by detecting in the poem ironic characterization. Tennyson, we are told, deliberately made the opening sentences morally coarse in order to characterize Ulysses as an egotistical brute as well as a dreamy adventurer. We are offered, then, the moral refinements of irony and denied the image of a hero who has both nobility of aspiration and coarseness of feeling. The poem has become "... a dramatic portrayal of a type of human being who held a set of ideas Tennyson regarded as destructive of the whole fabric of society." 1 Other modern critics note another incongruity in the poem: the voice of Tennyson's personal experience of desolation, withdrawal and melancholy ("The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs, the deep / Moans round with many voices") and the voice of public morality ("To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"). These critics do not,

____________________
From Texas Studies in Literature and Language 13, No. I (Summer 1971): 281-97.

-161-

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Odysseus/Ulysses
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Odysseus/ Ulysses *
  • Contents *
  • The Analysis of Character ix
  • Editor's Note xv
  • Introduction i
  • Critical Extracts 7
  • The Odyssey and the Western World 89
  • The Name of Odysseus 103
  • Homer and Hamlet 118
  • Kazantzakis: Odysseus and the "Cage of Freedom" 133
  • Shakespeare's Ulysses and the Problem of Value 144
  • The Fugitive from the Ancestral Hearth: Tennyson's "Ulysses" 161
  • Seeds for the Planting of Bloom 176
  • Dante's Ulysses: from Epic to Novel 189
  • Odysseus in Sophocles' Philoctetes 203
  • Joyce and Homer 214
  • The Platonic and Christian Ulysses 228
  • The Philosophy of Th E Odyssey 249
  • Odysseus and the Suitors 273
  • Chronology 289
  • Contributors 291
  • Bibliography 293
  • Acknowledgments 299
  • Index 303
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