Alfred Tennyson

  1. It little profits that an idle king,
  2. By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
  3. Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
  4. Unequal laws unto a savage race,
  5. That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
  6. I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
  7. Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
  8. Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
  9. That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
  10. Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
  11. Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
  12. For always roaming with a hungry heart
  13. Much have I seen and known, - cities of men
  14. And manners, climates, councils, governments,
  15. Myself not least, but honour'd of them all -
  16. And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
  17. Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
  18. I am a part of all that I have met;
  19. Yet all experience is an arch where-through
  20. Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
  21. For ever and forever when I move.
  22. How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
  23. To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
  24. As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
  25. Were all too little, and of one to me
  26. Little remains: but every hour is saved
  27. From that eternal silence, something more,
  28. A bringer of new things; and vile it were
  29. For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
  30. And this gray spirit yearning in desire
  31. To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
  32. Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
  33. This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
  34. To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,--
  35. Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
  36. This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
  37. A rugged people, and through soft degrees
  38. Subdue them to the useful and the good.
  39. Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
  40. Of common duties, decent not to fail
  41. In offices of tenderness, and pay
  42. Meet adoration to my household gods,
  43. When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
  44. There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
  45. There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
  46. Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me-
  47. That ever with a frolic welcome took
  48. The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
  49. Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
  50. Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
  51. Death closes all: but something ere the end,
  52. Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
  53. Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
  54. The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
  55. The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
  56. Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
  57. 'T is not too late to seek a newer world’.
  58. Push off, and sitting well in order smite
  59. The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
  60. To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
  61. Of all the western stars, until I die.
  62. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
  63. It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
  64. And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
  65. Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
  66. We are not now that strength which in old days
  67. Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
  68. One equal temper of heroic hearts,
  69. Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
  70. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

In this poem, Ulysses, now an old man, having returned to Ithaca after twenty years absence and much adventure, has grown restless, and is now contemplating setting out with his crew again:
Non giova  (It little profits = It does not help much, non è molto utile) un Re neghittoso (Idle = lazy, inactive), alla vampa del mio focolare tranquillo (still hearth = unlit fireplace (cuore spento, caminetto non acceso)) tra sterili (barren) rocce (crags), stare (matched = confrontarsi) con antica consorte (aged wife, Penelope), e misurare (mete) e pesare (amministrare) le leggi ineguali (unequal) a selvaggia gente (savage race) che ammucchia (hoart, accumulate, save up for the future), che dorme, che mangia e che non mi conosce.
Ulysses proclaims that he "cannot rest from travel":Non posso fermarmi dall'errar mio: Io berrò la vita sino alla fine (to the less, to the end). Per tutto il tempo ho molto gioito, molto sofferto, e con quelli che in cuor mi amarono e solo;tanto sull'arida terra (shore, spiaggia), e dove attraverso tempestose nubi (scudding drifts = stormy clouds) le Iadi piovose (rainy Hyades = five stars in the constellation of Taurus which became visibile when it began to rain) travagliano (vexed = disturbed, trobled)il mare oscurato (dim): acquistai il  Nome; sempre errando (roaming = wandering, exploring) con avido cuore.
Ulysses is nostalgic for his past adventure and glory. His travels have exposed him to many different types of people and ways of living: Molto ho visto e conosciuto, città di uomini, e conobbi modi, climi, concili (riunioni di persone), governi, io incluso (Myself not least = myself included), ond'ero nel cuore di tutti: e bevvi la gioia di lontane battaglie (drunk delight of battle = drank to celebrate victory) coi miei simili (peers = equals, companious), là nei campi dei suoni della battaglia (ringing plains = battle field ringing with war cries) di Troia (Troy: site of the Trojan wars of which Ulysses was a hero) battuti dal vento.
Ulysses declares that his travels and encounters have shaped who he is: "I am a part of all that I have met" he asserts: Io sono parte di tutto ciò che incontrai nella mia strada;
Tennyson compare experience through un arch (the experience is window open to the new): Pur ciò ch’io vidi è l’arcata (che s'apre sul nuovo) attraverso la quale (where-trough = trough which). splende (Gleams = shines) questo mondo di cui non viaggiando sfuggono i margini via, via ma che sempre rimangono quando viaggio. Stupida cosa (Dull)il fermarsi, il conoscersi un fine, il restare sotto la ruggine (rust) opachi (unburnished = corroded, not bring anymore, che non brucia)  nè splendere più nell'attrito.
Ulysses declares that it is boring to stay in one place; to stay in one place is to pretend that all there is to life is the simple act of breathing: Come se il vivere sia quest'alito! vita su vita poco sarebbe, ed a me d'una, ora, un attimo resta. Pure, è un attimo (hour, instant) tolto all'eterno silenzio (death), ed ancora porta con sè nuove opere, e indegno sarebbe, per qualche due o tre anni (three suns: three years), riporre me stesso con l'anima esperta ch'arde e desidera (yearning : wanting) His spirit yearns constantly for new experiences that will broaden his horizons; he wishes "to follow knowledge like a sinking star" seguire la conoscenza: la stella che cade oltre il confine del cielo (utmost bound: furthest limit), al di là dell'umano pensiero.
Ulysses introduce his son Telemaco. Telemaco has the appropriate quality to govern the country. Now Ulysses is free to leave home without fear of the anarchy (during his previous travel).
Telemaco represent the Victorian view devoted to the social dutes:
Ecco mio figlio, Telemaco mio, cui isola (the isle: Ithaca, of which Ulysses was king).e scettro lascio; che molto io amo (well-loved of me: i loved him); che sa quest'opera, accorto,compiere (discernine to: capable of, able to govern Itaca); rendere mansueta la gente selvatica (rugged: rough, uncultured), adagio (through soft degrees: gradually), dolce, e così via via sottometterla all'utile e al bene (typical victorian values). Irreprensibile (most blameless: without reason for criticism) egli è, ben fermo nel mezzo ai doveri, pio, che non mai mancherà nelle tenere usanze, e nel dare il convenevole culto agli dei della nostra famiglia (household gods: i lari), quando non sia qui io: il suo compito e' compie; io, il mio.
In the final stanza Ulysses turn to his mariners who propose them a new travel and he is optimistic. The romantic idea has got the imperialism idea (the great empire of queen Victoria): Eccolo il porto, laggiù: nel vascello si gonfia la vela: ampio nell'oscurità si rammarica il mare. Compagni, cuori ch'avete con me tollerato, penato, pensato, voi che accoglieste, ogni ora, con gaio ed uguale saluto tanto la folgore quanto il sereno, che liberi cuori, libere fronti opponeste: oh! noi siam vecchi compagni; pur la vecchiezza anch'ella ha il pregio, ha il compito: tutto chiude la Morte; ma può qualche opera compiersi prima d'uomini degna che già combatterono a prova coi Numi! Già da' tuguri sui picchi le luci balenano: il lungo giorno dilegua, la luna insensibile monta; l'abisso geme e sussurra all'intorno le sue mille voci (Moans round with many voices). He encourages them to make use of their old age because "”tis not too late to seek a newer world” Venite: tardi non è per coloro che cercano un mondo novello.
Uomini, al largo, e sedendovi in ordine, i solchi sonori via percotete: ho fermo nel cuore passare il tramonto ed il lavacro degli astri di là: fin ch'abbia la morte (push off…baths: the baths: the place where the stars seem to plunge into the ocean death is coming; this reference to death gives a note of melancoly in the poem).
Forse (it may be, rivela un’incertezza) è destino che i gorghi del mare ci affondino (wash us down: The ocean was imagined by Homer as a river encompassing the earth, and on the west plunging down a vast chasm where was the entrance of Hades);forse, nostro destino è toccare quelle isole della Fortuna (happy isles: Elysium, a paradise where herpes were said to go after theur deaths and which was throught to lie west of the straits of Gibraltar), dove vedremo il già  a noi noto, magnanimo Achille (Achilles: Greek hero of the Trojan wars who suffered an early death). Molto perdemmo (though much is taken à melancoly), ma molto ci resta (much abides: remains à optimism): non siamo la forza più che nei giorni lontani moveva la terra ed il cielo: noi, s'è quello che s'è: una tempra d'eroici cuori, sempre la stessa: affraliti dal tempo e dal fato, ma duri sempre in lottare e cercare e trovare ne cedere mai (To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield à storicism. Mans ostinate attent – tentativo – to give a purple toh is life even if death i approching).

Analisi e commento:

This poem , written in 1833 and revised for publication in 1842 (in Poems), was composed in the first few weeks after Tennyson learned of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam's death. In this dramatic monologue he celebrated man’s obstinate attempt to give purpose to his own life even if he is approaching death.
Based on a passage in Dante's Inferno, canto XXVI. Tennyson exalts his hero's eternally restless aspiration, whereas Dante condemned his curiosity and presumption. Both poets recalled Odyssey, XI, 100-37, where the ghost foretold Ulysses' fortune.
The speaker is Ulysses and he is speaking about his past. Ulysses is old, he is back to Itaca but he doesn’t like his present situation because he prefers travelling.


This poem is written as a dramatic monologue: the entire poem is spoken by a single character, whose identity is revealed by his own words. The lines are in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter, which serves to impart a fluid and natural quality to Ulysses's speech. The poem is divided into four paragraph-like sections, each of which comprises a distinct thematic unit of the poem.