Now we are to discuss these poems and observe closely the use of myths and legends
Homer’s Odysseus or Tennyson’s Ulysses is about to leave his island Kingdom of Ithaca and set out of a great adventure, because he is a man dissatisfied with his lot as a king. He regards his own role as ‘idle king’; his wife as ‘aged wife’, his people as ‘savage race that hoard, and sleep and feed,’ and his life is as barren as the cages he sees around him as he stands on the shore. He longs for his past life of activity and new experience, even thought this often meant hardship and sufferings.
Actually Tennyson has depicted Ulysses as a man of Victorian spirit. Victorian age was the age of new and newer inventions and discoveries. People were eager to seek new knowledge. They desired to see the unseen, to know the unknown and their unquenchable thirst for knowledge were very prominent features of the Victorian age. Ulysses has presented us the active spirit of adventure, thirsting for knowledge and experience. Tennyson’s Ulysses is, in fact, an embodiment of passion for knowledge, for the exploration of its limitless fields, for the annexation of new kingdoms of science and thoughts. As a result Ulysses utters:
“ To follow knowledge like a sinking star
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”
This presentation of ‘Ulysses’ shows that Tennyson is a very happy and optimistic man at the same time when Mathew Arnold is in a melancholic mood finding the conflict between science and religion, the growing faithlessness among humanity. Thus we see that Tennyson is very optimistic with the growing trade and commerce, the new inventions and over all development of his time.
There is another aspect, often neglected, in which Ulysses is a highly Tennysonian character – his mental pessimism: though he talks of action he does nothing. It is too easily assumed that at the end of the poem he embarks on his last voyage. Against this is the enervating and languid movement of the verse as night falls (hardly a likely time to set sail):
“The light begins to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices …”
It is very difficult for us to believe Ulysses when he says “’Tis not late too late to seek a newer world.”
Tithonus, written at about the same time of Ulysses, is one of the most beautiful and successful of Tennyson’s works. Tithonus, in classical mythology, was a Trojan beloved of the goddess of dawn, Aurora who granted him immortality, but not eternal youth. Tennyson’s character speaks in extreme old age, all passion spent, but with a melancholy longing for the release from life, which his immortality denies him. Roger Ebbatson comments that below the surface of this lament about the fading of youth, there lurks a sense of foreboding about a possible loss of the poet’s own creative power:
“Ay me! Ay me! With what another heart
In days far-off, and what other eyes
I used to watch – if I be he that watch’d—"
With the death of his beloved Halam, the poet had lost the active joy in the imagination, which had marked his early works.
Henry James characterized the ending as ‘poised and stationary’, and argued that the ‘immortality defeated the ‘dramatic intention.’ Such a defeat is always likely in Tennyson, and it seems clear that the poem expressed the shocked realization of a long and meaningless future, which comes upon Tennyson at the news of Hallam’s death.
Tithonus is perhaps not finally a poem of suicide or escape, since the speaker asks, even though sorrowfully, to be incorporated within the commonality of all created life. [Tennyson: Roger Ebbatson].
Indeed, Tithonus is a mixture of mental pessimism because of his loss of the dearest one and a touch of optimism at the end of the poem as mentioned by Roger Ebbatson.
The theme of escape from the harsh reality of life, which occurs frequently in Tennyson, is treated with greater depth and subtlety in The Lotos Eaters. The subject draws again on Homer’s Odyssey in which Odysseus and his followers suffer years of hardship to reach Ithaca. In the land of lotos-eaters some of the sailors eat the lotos and lose all desire of return.
The ‘Choric Song’ expresses not an active sense of joy and delight but a sensuous weariness and longing for respite from all activity and hardship. Stanza – II to IV justify this longing by arguing that, as man is the highest crated being, it is wrong that he should be subjected to labor and hardship.
They recall in stanza –VI the families they have left behind in Ithaca. They do not want to return. They argues in favor of escapism:
“For surely now our households hearths are cold;
Ours sons inherit us; our looks are strange.”
So far the poem has evoked the attraction of this escape from reality and given a little hint of the question whether such an escape is right. In the Choric Song the sailors declare that they will follow instincts like gods ignoring the world’s misery and evil. This clearly raises the moral question (the sailors for selfishness) and there seems no doubt that Tennyson is wishing to say that such an attitude is immoral. The division between his instinctual feelings and his moral judgment was one which Tennyson only occasionally overcame.
In ‘Oenone’, the legend of golden apple shows that there are groups of people: one run after power, the other seek knowledge and wisdom, and another who indulge in pleasure of the physical senses. Obviously Tennyson is in favor of the Moral Law. It also shows that the age of Tennyson is full of people like Paris, who may bring disaster any time, which is not desired. So, Tennyson waits foe man of self-reverence, self-knowledge and self-control.
Finally we may say that in a superb way Tennyson has interlinked the myths and legends with his own sorrows or pessimism and the optimism of his age due to modern inventions, new explorations and advancement of trades and commerce. These are plainly praiseworthy.
Here's what a star student thought of this essay
Quality of writing
Generally the quality of written communication is adequate, though occasionally fraught, such as Ã¢â‚¬Å“These above quoted two quotations are from two renowned poets of Victorian arena show the contrast attitudes to their timeÃ¢â‚¬Â, in which there are evident grammatical issues. The writer uses Ã¢â‚¬Å“weÃ¢â‚¬Â throughout instead of the generally accepted 3rd person, which is not advised as it makes the essay seem more informal and less like an academic essay. In terms of spelling and grammar the essay does not meet expectations for written work at A-Level. Technical terms could also have been used, such as considering the meter of the poem (unrhymed iambic pentameter), which would give the essay a tone of knowledge and research.
Level of analysis
The writer uses several quotations to support the points throughout, which shows that they have not just been plucked out of thin air but come from the texts themselves; this is usually followed by some attempt at analysis, such as Ã¢â‚¬Å“enervating and languid movement of the verse as night fallsÃ¢â‚¬Â. This could have been extended by analysing how, technically the stanza is Ã¢â‚¬Å“enervatingÃ¢â‚¬Â, such as the enjambment of Ã¢â‚¬Å“the deep/MoansÃ¢â‚¬Â and monosyllabic lines. Technical vocabulary such as this is good as it adds a more calculating analysis to the emotive interpretation of Ã¢â‚¬Å“enervating and languidÃ¢â‚¬Â. Analysis of tone and atmosphere (such as Ã¢â‚¬Å“there lurks a sense of forebodingÃ¢â‚¬Â) is done well, with the writer using key phrases like Ã¢â‚¬Å“creates a sense ofÃ¢â‚¬Â. Evaluation is limited, though critical interpretations have been included (the Henry James quote, for instance). Interpretations from critics and other viewpoints are essential to include as they show the examiner that you have considered other viewpoints other than your own and that you can weigh up which seems more likely in light of the evidence.
Response to question
The question has two clear elements: mental pessimism and Victorian optimism. To make this a higher level answer each paragraph in the essay could have directly related back to these two points, with a topic sentence to guide the reader. The writer does in places explicitly use the topic phrases, which structures the essay somewhat: to make the essay more accessible to the reader this should be applied to the entire essay.