Compare and Contrast Tithonus and Ulysses.
Compare and Contrast Tithonus and Ulysses
Alex Williamson 14th February 2001
Tithonus and Ulysses were written by Alfred Lord Tennyson; a poet famous for his representation of Victorianism in his poetry, recognised by the fact that Queen Victoria appointed him as the poet laureate. He wrote Tithonus in 1860 and Ulysses in 1842. Both poems display similar grammatical structure; both are dramatic monologues, that is to say that both are written in the first person with the subject of the poems narrating, a style popular in Victorian poetry as it is a form of the Victorian’s favourite genre of writing; the novel; both concern Greco-Roman mythology and the extensions thereof produced in the Middle Ages: there is no record of Ulysses either continuing or wishing to continue his travels after his arrival from Troy, it is generally accepted that this concept was later added to the myth by Dante.
Both poems begin in similar fashion; Tithonus begins with the imagery of death and decay; ‘The woods decay, the woods decay and fall’ due mainly to the fact that he has seen almost everything die away apart from himself, furthermore Ulysses soon depicts imagery of emptiness and desolation; ‘among these barren crags, match’d with an aged wife’ he not only graphically depicts his discontent but also suggests that he can not engage in procreation as his wife is infertile.
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However it soon becomes apparent that the narrators have entirely different objectives; Tithonus is weary of the world, he has been immortalised without eternal youth and as a direct result he must suffer the pain of age without the reprieve of death; his wife, Dawn, inadvertently neglected to request eternal youth for her lover from the Gods and as such he as and old man prays for death: ‘the happier dead… Restore me to the ground’. This cannot possibly happen, as the Gods simply cannot retract their actions; ‘The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts’. Despite his love and admiration of his lover, Tithonus is bitter at the Dawn for her inability to reflect on the consequences of her actions: ‘like wealthy men who care not how they give’; it is his detestation of his own age and his willingness to die that encapsulates Tithonus: ‘Man… lies beneath’, his age is demonstrated by both his alarming lack of feeling (it is as if he has to remember feelings as opposed to experiencing them): ‘I used to watch’ and his physical decrepitude: ‘cold my wrinkled feet’.
Ulysses is entirely different; far from being tired of life, he laments his lack of freedom and excitement: ‘I mete and dole’ and ‘an idle king’ he makes it abundantly clear that he seeks fame: ‘honour’d of all of them’, which simply does not receive in Ithaca: ‘ a savage race… know not me’ and ‘I am become a name’. Ulysses is in fact so egocentric that he cannot exist without adulation and action: ‘I cannot rest from travel’ and ‘for always roaming with a hungry heart’. Ulysses’ boredom is the greatest factor in his desire to travel. He desperately wants to free himself from the shackles of responsibility: ‘to whom I leave this sceptre’ and ‘tis not to late to seek a newer world’, the ironic fact of his childish dereliction of his responsibilities is the fact that he places his own child, Telemachus, in charge of what he sees as mundane, monotonous tasks: ‘of common duties’ and ‘by slow prudence to make mild’. He continues his irony by stating ‘well-loved of me’ before announcing that he is to administer a task that Ulysses sees as to dreary for himself. He sees responsibility as a fetter, restraining his ability to continue his extravagancies and his urge to travel: ‘I will drink life to the lees’, this statement directly contrasts with Tithonus’ wish to die, whereas Ulysses wants to continue in his impossible journey to find happiness as a nomad, shown by Tennyson to be unobtainable: ‘to follow knowledge like a sinking star’ and ‘beyond the utmost bound of human thought’.
Compare and Contrast Tithonus and Ulysses Page 2
Alex Williamson 14th February 2001
It is ironic that the majority of the sensuality in the two poems lies in Tithonus, for he and Dawn still share a relationship that can only be based on touch and feeling due to her inability to speak: ‘In silence, then before thine answer given’ and ‘whispering I knew not what of’. However she seems to be the only thing that can restore his vitality, despite the fact that it was her blunder, which caused Tithonus to lose his vivacity: ‘felt my blood glow’ and of course the phallic metaphor of the rise of Troy to Apollo’s song: ‘While Ilion like a mist rose into towers’. However his age is prohibitive to the couple’s physical love and soon the sexual metamorphoses into the maternal: ‘thy rosy shadows bathe me’, continued by ‘I wither slowly in thine arms’. Ulysses, however has the problem that he simply cannot access his sexuality while on Ithaca, as is suggested by the implication that his wife is infertile; he years for the days on his travels when procreation was virtually for him a recreational activity, however his reference to this is laconic at best: ‘he works his work, I work mine’.
Both poems are Rhetorical insofar as that they attempt to change something; however despite the cause of both men’s troubles being the same they desire contrary results; Tithonus desperately wants to be at one with the common man and die, he is already on the verge of nothingness: ‘A white haire’d shadow roaming like a dream’, indirect contrast to the Dawn’s life and vitality, renewed every day: ‘Immortal age beside immortal youth’, ‘thy cheeks begin to redden’, the contrast between two extremes is marked as dawn pulses with vitality, life and vigour whereas Tithonus simply wants to die and rest eternally. Ulysses wants the reverse, he wishes to cast off mortality and death and to continue to travel, he makes it clear he feels it is never too late to stop broadening oneself: ‘the long day wanes’ (A metaphor for death based on the ancient Greek riddle of man’s progress through life in a day). However it becomes apparent he doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do: ‘to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’; he simply wants to abandon responsibility and experience excitement and adventure before he succumbs to death.
Both of these poems exhibit similar characteristics in terms of both structure and narrative style; however the contrast between the two narrators could not be more marked; one, Ulysses, exhibits the desire to abandon all that makes him normal, he seeks fame, fortune, adulation and an escape from mortality and responsibility. Tithonus seeks the antithesis to Ulysses; he wants to abandon all that make him unconventional; his lack of human contact and above all; his immortality.
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**** 4 Stars An excellent essay which compares the two poems in detail using a wide range of quotes to support comments. Well written and perceptive comments using a wide vocabulary. This essay shows a mature understanding of both poems. Some editing is required as some sentence structures are very long and meaning can be lost at times.