by A. Tennyson 

Text Analysis in 8 literary elements

Welcome to our in-depth analysis of Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem, "Ulysses." Unlike conventional analyses, we approach this exploration through  eight key literary elements. 

- Structure

- Rhyme scheme

- Division into sections

- Setting in time

- Setting in place

- Figures of speech

- Themes

- Genre

By observing each element, we aim to uncover the genre of the poem, offering readers a fresh perspective on this literary masterpiece. 

Ulysses is a poem written by Lord Alfred Tennyson. It is part of his collection titled "Poems." This poem was published in 1842.

Relation to Homer's Odyssey: While Tennyson's "Ulysses" stands as an independent work, it's deeply intertwined with Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey. Drawing inspiration from Homer's narrative, Tennyson reimagines the character of Ulysses (Odysseus) in a new context: it describes an old king at home. The poem serves as a continuation of Ulysses' story, exploring his inner thoughts and desires after his return to Ithaca. By referencing key elements from the Odyssey, such as Ulysses' longing for adventure, his heroic past, and his restless spirit, Tennyson pays homage to the ancient epic while crafting a new character. 

The absence of Penelope, Ulysses' faithful wife, is notable in Tennyson's poem, as she is only mentioned briefly at the beginning. Instead, the focus shifts to Ulysses and his son Telemachus, suggesting a departure from the domestic sphere and a renewed emphasis on adventure and exploration. Telemachus' presence underscores the theme of succession and the passing of the torch from father to son, highlighting the generational aspect of Ulysses' legacy. Through these narrative choices, Tennyson reinterprets the characters of the Odyssey.


"Ulysses" is structured into four stanzas of varying lengths. It is written in blank verse, utilizing iambic pentameter, which reflects the natural rhythm of speech.

Rhyme scheme

The poem does not have a rhyme scheme. All its endings are unmatched.

Division into sections

The poem can be divided into four distinct sections:

The first section, corresponding to the first stanza, from line 1 to line 5, focuses on the speaker's current state of existence. Describing his present life as an old king leading a monotonous existence, this section titled "Present life," sets the stage for the subsequent exploration of deeper themes.

Moving into the second section, spanning from line 7 to line 32, the speaker describes his inner restlessness and existential yearning, desire. Here, he articulates his belief that life is an ongoing pursuit of knowledge, portraying it as a continuous quest for knowledge. We can title it "The meaning of life."

In the third section, covering lines 33 to 43, the speaker shifts his focus to his heir, Telemachus, revealing his identity as Ulysses. Highlighting Telemachus' future role as a capable ruler, the speaker contemplates his own eventual departure from the throne. Titled "Abdication," this section explores themes of succession and legacy, offering insights into the speaker's sense of duty and mortality.

Finally, in the fourth section spanning from line 44 to line 70, Ulysses addresses his companions, urging them to embark on a final journey into the unknown. Here, he passionately advocates for action and adventure, trying to inspire his mariners to embrace the challenges that lie ahead. With the title "Final destination," this section encapsulates Ulysses' determination to pursue his dreams and confront the mysteries of the world.

Setting in time

Various temporal references scattered throughout the verses evoke the setting in time.

The phrase "all times" in line 7 indicates the speaker is talking about things that are true all the time, not just now. Also, when the speaker says "for ever and forever" in line 21 , again and again, it shows that his feelings will never change (enduring nature of the speaker's sentiments).

The phrase "every hour", in line 26, conveys a sense of perpetual motion and the passage of time. The mention of "three suns" in line 29 adds a mythical dimension, hinting at celestial cycles and the passage of days.

Towards the conclusion of the poem, the speaker contemplates "the end" in line 51, signaling a culmination or conclusion to his journey. Additionally, the reference to "the long day" in line 55 suggests a prolonged period of time, a lifetime, filled with challenges and trials.

The speaker's reminiscences of "in old days" in line 66 evoke a sense of nostalgia for times past, contrasting with the uncertainties of the present. Finally, the word "time" itself, appearing in line 69, serves as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of human existence, underscoring the theme of mortality woven throughout the poem.

Setting in place

The poem intricately weaves diverse geographical and mythical landscapes into its narrative, contributing to the poem's thematic development and the speaker's characterization.

The mention of a "still hearth" juxtaposed with "barren crags" in line 2 evokes imagery of domestic tranquility contrasted with desolation, symbolizing the tension between the comforts of home and the call of adventure.

The phrase "on shore" refers to a moment of reflection and contemplation in Ulysses' life. It represents a time when he is not actively engaged in adventures at sea but is instead contemplating his past experiences and considering future journeys. This phrase, 'on shore', symbolizes a period of introspection and decision-making for Ulysses, where he reflects on both the joys and sorrows he has experienced throughout his life. Furthermore, the description of the "rainy Hyades" in line 10 and the plains of "windy Troy" in line 16 refer to the speaker's epic past, linking his present desire to travel with his heroic exploits of the past. These mythical references highlight the impact of his legendary adventures on his psyche.

Line 20 introduces the concept of an "untravelled world," hinting at undiscovered territories and uncharted routes. This imagery symbolizes the speaker's eternal quest for new horizons and experiences.

As the poem progresses, the speaker's contemplation of "the port" in line 44 symbolizes a gateway to new experiences and adventures, marking the beginning of his final journey into the unknown. The imagery of "broad seas" in line 45 further emphasizes the vastness of the world awaiting exploration.

References to a "newer world" in line 57 suggest the possibility of discovery and renewal, while the notion of sailing "beyond the sunset" in line 60 hints at going beyond the limitations or constraints of the physical world or earthly existence and venturing into the realm of the mythical and divine.

Line 62 introduces the mythical "Happy Isles," a paradisiacal destination associated with bliss and contentment, symbolizing the speaker's ultimate quest for fulfillment and peace.

Finally, the phrase "earth and heaven" in line 67 juxtaposes earthly realms with celestial spheres, underscoring the speaker's ambition to transcend mortal limitations and reach for higher ideals. Through these rich and evocative descriptions, Tennyson depicts the complexities of the human soul and the eternal search for meaning and purpose.

 "Rainy Hyades":

  • The term "Hyades" refers to a star cluster located in the constellation Taurus. In Greek mythology, the Hyades were the daughters of Atlas and sisters of the Pleiades. They were often associated with rain and storms, hence the epithet "rainy Hyades." In Tennyson's poem, the mention of the "rainy Hyades" in line 10 conjures images of stormy weather and inclement conditions. This imagery may symbolize the tumultuous nature of life's journey, with its inevitable trials and challenges. The speaker's reference to the "rainy Hyades" suggests a recognition of the hardships and adversities that accompany his quest for knowledge and adventure.
  • "Happy Isles":
  • The phrase "Happy Isles" appears in line 62 of the poem and refers to a mythical paradise or utopian destination often associated with bliss and contentment. In Greek mythology, the concept of the "Isles of the Blessed" or "Elysium" represented a paradisiacal afterlife reserved for heroes and virtuous individuals. Similarly, in Tennyson's poem, the "Happy Isles" symbolize a metaphorical land of peace and tranquility, where the speaker hopes to find solace and fulfillment. The imagery of the "Happy Isles" serves as a powerful contrast to the speaker's restless wanderings and earthly struggles, offering a glimpse of the ultimate goal of his existential journey.

Figures of speech

Metaphors are utilized throughout the poem to convey deeper emotions. The phrase "still hearth" in line 2 paints a picture of domestic tranquility juxtaposed with the barrenness of the world beyond. In line 7, "life to the lees" metaphorically expresses the speaker's desire to fully embrace and savor every aspect of existence. The term "a hungry heart" in line 12 conveys a sense of insatiable longing and desire. Additionally, the imagery of "drunk delight of battle" in line 16 captures the intoxicating thrill and fervor of warfare.

One of the most poignant metaphors in the poem appears in lines 61-62, where the idea of "to sail beyond the sunset, ...of all the western stars" serves as a metaphor for death, symbolizing the ultimate voyage into the unknown.

A simile is also employed in line 18, where the speaker compares the pursuit of knowledge to "a sinking star," suggesting the quest for wisdom is fleeting, ephemeral yet captivating.

Furthermore, synecdoche (Synecdoche is a figure of speech where a part of something is used to represent the whole or vice versa.) is utilized in line 46, where the phrase "souls that have toiled, and wrought" represents humanity as a whole, emphasizing the collective effort and labor of individuals in shaping the world.

Through the skillful use of these figures of speech, Tennyson infuses "Ulysses" with rich and evocative language, inviting readers into the thematic complexities of the poem.


The theme of the past, revised through dreaming and imagination, underscores the speaker's nostalgic reflections on past adventures and triumphs. Through his vivid recollections and imaginative reconstructions, the speaker seeks pleausre and meaning in memories of past glories.

Pessimism is another prominent theme in the poem, as the speaker lives feelings of disillusionment and dissatisfaction with his current state of existence. The sense of restlessness and unfulfilled longing expresses a pervasive sense of pessimism about the future.

Furthermore, the theme of withdrawal from reality into a dreamy world emerges as the speaker seeks refuge in dreams and fantasies. Dreams offer an escape from the harsh realities of life, providing comfort if confronted with the chaos and uncertainty of the world. However, the poem suggests that while dreams may offer temporary relief, they ultimately fail to provide a tangible alternative to the challenges and hardships of reality.


As a long poem consisting of 70 lines, Ulysses offers a comprehensive exploration of its subject matter, allowing for a nuanced portrayal of the historical and mythical figure of Ulysses. Through rich imagery and vivid language, Tennyson brings this legendary character to life, inviting readers to explore the complexities of his psyche and experiences.

The poem presents Ulysses as a historical and mythical figure, blending elements of both reality and legend. By drawing upon classical mythology and historical accounts, This gives the poem a sense of timelessness and universality.

The poem shows an unusual syntax, evident in lines 13 and 39. This stylistic choice challenges readers to engage with the text more deeply, prompting them to consider alternative interpretations and meanings.

Furthermore, the inclusion of colloquial language in lines 11, 43, and 67 adds a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the speaker's voice, contributing to the realism of the poem.

Ulysses revolves around a crucial point expressed by the speaker, particularly in lines 56-57, which serves as a focal point for the poem's themes and message. This pivotal moment underscores the speaker's resolve and determination to pursue his dreams and aspirations, despite the challenges and obstacles that may lie ahead.

Additionally, the presence of a silent listener, hinted at in lines 44 and 49, adds depth and complexity to the poem's narrative, inviting readers to consider the implications of this unseen presence on the speaker's words and actions.

With its precise background details, first-person perspective, and focus on a single speaker addressing a silent audience, Ulysses can be classified as a dramatic monologue. Through this distinctive genre, Tennyson explores themes of ambition, mortality, and the human condition, leaving a lasting impression on readers.

Vocabulary List

  • Structure: The organization or arrangement of parts within a literary work.
  • Rhyme scheme: The pattern of rhymes at the end of each line in a poem.
  • Stanza: A group of lines forming the basic recurring metrical unit in a poem.
  • Blank verse: Poetry written in unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter.
  • Iambic pentameter: A metrical pattern in poetry consisting of five iambs (unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable) per line.
  • Division into sections: Breaking down a poem or literary work into distinct parts for analysis.
  • Existential: Relating to existence, especially human existence.
  • Philosophical reflections: Deep thoughts or contemplations about fundamental questions concerning existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.
  • Abdication: The act of renouncing or relinquishing a throne, power, or responsibility.
  • Legacy: Something handed down from one generation to the next; a tradition.
  • Mortality: The state of being subject to death; the quality or condition of being mortal.
  • Temporal: Relating to time or the sequence of events.
  • Nostalgia: A sentimental longing or affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
  • Mythical: Relating to, based on, or appearing in myths or mythology.
  • Ephemeral: Lasting for a very short time; transitory.
  • Tranquility: The quality or state of being calm; peacefulness.
  • Desolation: A state of complete emptiness or destruction.
  • Introspection: The examination or observation of one's own mental and emotional processes.
  • Restlessness: The inability to rest or relax as a result of anxiety or boredom.
  • Renewal: The action of extending the period of validity of something; the state of being restored or revived.


  1. Tucker, Herbert F. "Tennyson and the Measure of Doom."
  2. Storch, Richard F. "The Fugitive from the Ancestral Hearth: Tennyson's 'Ulysses'."

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LnT exploring Tennyson's "Ulysses" in a unique way: read it an impressive 10 times! Remember to check the word list. This detailed reading exercise will help you understand the poem better and improve your analysis skills!

Use the following from minute 2:00 to minute 6:10: https://youtu.be/FknHtLjwLjY?si=feGdcsVXi8OfSyPR

LnT exploring the text analysis of the poem Ulysses

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LnT watching  the visual text analysis of Ulysses on LnT Youtube channel. Explore  further and be sure to watch the video on The Dramatic Monologue to learn about the poem's genre