Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Comparative Study between Poems Ulysses and Tithonus of Tennyson

Tithonus and Ulysses are two famous poems written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Both of them were written after the death of his best friend Arthur Henry Hallam and they are based on almost similar theme: Journey. In both the poems, the protagonist has grown older and is aware of death as a means of ending their life cycle. Death, a very popular theme of Victorian age, is also captured in both the poems. However, despite these similarities, the poems are different in terms of various aspects.

The first and obvious difference that a reader can notice between these two poems is that Ulysses is a poem of hope and optimism, while Tithonus is a poem of despair and frustration. Ulysses knows that he would die very soon and this is his last sea voyage. He is not afraid to face destiny. In stead, he is eager to get some new adventures as he did in the past seeking more glory. Tithonus in his young age was curious about immortality and he wanted to taste it. However, since he grew older, he lost all the attraction towards immortality. In stead, he has given up on life and wants a quick death. So, as a character Ulysses is full of life and pro-active, while Tithonus is lifeless.

Ulysses has a sense of adventure, but Tithonus is afraid of any new adventure. It is not that Ulysses always had glories and happiness in the past when he visited different places in the past. He also faced adversity of life during his previous journeys, but he enjoyed the moments greatly and he wants to live and die in adventure in what would bring glory and pride for him. On the other hand, Tithonus has experienced the thrill of adventures when he was young, but now after being granted a gift of immortality by his beloved Aurora, the Goddess of dawn, he has now understood his misfortune as he did not ask for immortal youth, in stead of immortal life. Now, he has lost his pride that once he had for his attractive physique, and wants to die in order to get free from the boon. So, he has no temptation left for a new adventure.

By reading the two poems a reader may feel that knowledge is a very important topic present in the two poems. For example, Ulysses always wants to acquire knowledge and he feels that life without knowledge is meaningless:

"How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!"

Tithonus, on the other hand, sought immortality to Aurora, the Goddess of dawn, who fell in love with him, in order to enjoy endless eternal happiness. So, the intention of Tithonus was not to seek knowledge; rather he wanted to enjoy the heavenly comfort with his beautiful wife Aurora. So, he does not care for knowledge. He got the opportunity that Ulyses could not have, but he utilized it seeking luxury and pleasure. When Ulyssess cherishes to acquire life after life for seeking more and more knowledge, Tithonus achieved what he sought, but did not use it for acquiring knowledge. Rather, in the end, Tithonus realizes that the boon, bestowed upon him by the Goddess, has turned into a curse as he lost his youth. Now, he wants to get out of the gift in order to become free from his cursed-life where he does not find pleasure and pride anymore.

Ulysses was a spiritual person who was wise. He likes to think about life and he tries to search insight his own mind. He does not care for luxury and lavishness. So, being a king does not bring him any peace, but even makes him more restless that he has got stuck in same routine. In fact, Ulysses as a character is full of life and pro-active. Tithonus, in contrast, is a materialistic person who cares for earthly and sensual pleasure. The Goddess fell in love with him, and he, in stead of responding with more love for the Goddess, took advantage of the emotion of the Goddess Aurora and gained immortality with her blessing. Tithonus had nothing spiritual inside him. He grew older and lost his charismatic youth with days go on and now he has become a lifeless person in the sense that he only ponders about death now in pursuit of getting free from this painful immortality in an attempt to get free from this painful immortality.

Acceptance of death is another important difference between the two poems. Ulysses wants to get free of death by doing some noble deed, even though he accepts death as an eventual means of ending life. Tithonus, in contrast, is eager to embrace death, even though he knows death would not come to him as Gods and Goddess can not take away their boon once given. So, both Ulysses and Tithonus accept death as part of human life, but they approach death differently.

In the end, I would like to say that the theme of the two poems: Journey- is reflected in two contrasting ways. Ulysses wants to go on his last sea-voyage before death in pursuit of acquiring more knowledge, accepting the eventual death, but willing to do something noble before death. Tithonus, on the other hand, is now desperate to end his journey after experiencing a bitter past. Overall, differences between the two poems are more vivid than the similarities seen in the two poems.


  1. Anonymous12:15 AM

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  5. Anonymous5:01 AM

    It was really helpful... Thanks

  6. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Such a helpful essay. Stresses well on Victorian Age's greed, materialistic nature, and imprudence.

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