Treasure Island

Alfred Lord Tennyson

(6 August 1809 – 6 October 1892 / Lincoln / England)

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Ulysses


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.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,-- cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor'd of them all,--
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
>From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,--
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me,--
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,-- you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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Read poems about / on: work, travel, sunset, sunshine, strength, son, fate, star, silence, happy, moon, world, life, sleep, people, heaven, sea, alone, dark, death

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  • Frank Avon (8/30/2014 11:24:00 PM)

    Of Tennyson's many, I still think this one is his best - unsentimental, regularly iambic but simulating plain speech, simple and accessible, but thoughtful and rather sophisticated. To have written one such poem is to have earned the reputation of a genuine poet. (And, of course, Tennyson has many, many others.) (Report) Reply

  • Laura Burns (8/30/2014 9:33:00 AM)

    This poem is based less on the Odyssey than on Dante's discussion of Ulysses in the Divine Comedy. (Report) Reply

  • William B. Petricko (9/29/2013 11:50:00 PM)

    Only recently discovered this gem and was so taken with it that within a week I had memorized it.
    It must be an age thing but I doubt if I could have resonated with this poem 40 years ago when I was taking English Literature in university. What a timely find. (Report) Reply

  • Aftab Alam Khursheed (8/30/2013 2:31:00 AM)

    Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson in poetic form and the same James Joyce in a prose form or a novel both are the great work LT perfection on historical poem is indeed a great work we must read to grasp the style (Report) Reply

  • Gisela Van Reenen (9/16/2012 7:12:00 AM)

    Yes, indeed, a wonderful, wonderful poem. Read it together with Cavafy's Ithaca. Absolutely breathtaking! (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (8/30/2012 11:29:00 AM)

    There is something in this kind of poetry which puts a spell on the reader. It gets into the blood stream and creates in the reader the feelings and the thoughts of the hero - as one reads, the breath quickens, and the body longs to be out there with Ulysses chancing one's arm against fate. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (8/30/2012 9:11:00 AM)

    Tennyson sought to achieve perfection others of his age never thought about! His quest for classical range as the taste of it is felt in this poem talks much about his ability in poetry! His poems are just like polished gems rare to be found among many of his calibre! (Report) Reply

  • Saadat Tahir (8/30/2012 3:02:00 AM)

    @ shahzia...
    i so agree there...indeed lovely lines with an almost exotic charm, one reads in wonderment as the words literally from the sky, dance a tango fit neatly right in place to complete the jigsaw that the great poet’s mind weaves in astonishing richness.

    Some lines are picked verbatim from the original toils...and yet they fit in flawlessly

    wow to the masters.
    *** (Report) Reply

  • Shahzia Batool (8/30/2012 1:23:00 AM)

    My favorite lines from this master-piece:

    I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
    Life to the lees.................
    -----------
    Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
    -------------
    It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
    It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
    --------------
    ---------------
    but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (Report) Reply

  • Loma Silsbury (6/3/2012 1:52:00 AM)

    My love of literature knows no bounds and

    Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
    Death closes all; but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
    Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods...

    Come, my friends.
    'T is not too late to seek a newer world
    ... for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the western stars, until I die.

    thus quoted has always been pure inspiration to this septuagenarian.. (Report) Reply

  • Edward Coleman (8/3/2010 9:28:00 PM)

    My favorite. Tennyson's Ulysses turned me on to poetry when I was 18. My next favorite poem is Thomas Hardy's Neutral Tones. I'm now making my way through Emily Dickinson. She's tough. (Report) Reply

  • Marieta Maglas (7/18/2009 3:23:00 PM)

    I must write that I feel so good to be here, near this great poet, whose poetry is the great love of my life.I have a feeling of happiness and I feel, also, the eternity... (Report) Reply

  • Deborah Schuff (3/20/2009 11:56:00 PM)

    'Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.' -Dylan Thomas (Report) Reply

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