It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees; all times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy,
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

    This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

    There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


  1. “Much is taken, much abides” is an example of diacope, a figure of speech involving the repetition of a word or phrase that is broken up by intervening words. Tennyson’s use of diacope functions as a rhetorical device because the repetition of the word “much” enables Ulysses to better persuade his mariners to join him in living their lives to the fullest despite their age.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Achilles, or Achilleus, is one of the greatest warriors in Greek mythology. His mother, Thetis, submerged him in the magical waters of the River Styx when he was an infant so that he would become invulnerable. However, she gripped him by the ankle, which remained above water and caused his heel to be the only vulnerable part of his body. Achilles, who grows into a very strong, nearly invulnerable man, dies during the Trojan War when Paris shoots him in the heel with an arrow.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Ulysses advises his mariners not to give in to old age just yet. He acknowledges the inevitability of death, but suggests that more may be accomplished—“Some work of noble note”—in the meantime. Further, because his men were brave and “strove with Gods,” Ulysses believes that they are particularly capable of living full lives even though they are old.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. “Free hearts” and “free foreheads” are metonymies for desires and minds, respectively. Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a quality or attribute of something is used to represent that thing. Ulysses emphasizes here that he and his companions always welcomed danger, or “thunder,” and good fortune, or “sunshine.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Ulysses refers to his mariners by a part of their spiritual selves: their souls. This is called synecdoche, or the representation of a whole by one of its parts. The soul is generally considered to be immortal, so Ulysses’s use of synecdoche in this context elevates his mariners—who have worked, fought, and thought alongside him—to an almost divine status.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. A “scepter” is an ornamented wand or staff held by a monarch or other ruler as a symbol of authority or sovereignty, usually for ceremonial purposes. In ancient Greece, scepters were primarily used by respected individuals, gods, and rulers.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. In Greek mythology, Telemachus is the son of Odysseus and a major character in Homer’s Odyssey. In Homer’s Iliad, Odysseus left to fight in the Trojan War while Telemachus was an infant, and two decades later at the start of the Odyssey, he has yet to return to his son and wife. In the meantime, his house has been overrun with suitors who are interested in his wife, Penelope. With the instruction and aid of the goddess Athena, Telemachus sets out to learn what happened to his father. After finally returning home to Ithaca, he learns that Odysseus—in the guise of a beggar—has arrived to reclaim his house. Together, father and son slay Penelope’s suitors and Odysseus resumes his role as the king of Ithaca.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Tennyson uses a simile when he describes Ulysses’s being holed up in pursuit of knowledge “like a sinking star.” This is the second of three times that Ulysses mentions stars in the poem. By comparing himself to a star here, he emphasizes not only how far he has fallen from his status as a hero, but also how much he hungers for adventure as well as knowledge.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Ulysses applies to himself the simile of “rusty mail,” or rusted armor, deployed by Odysseus in Troilus and Cressida, a Shakespearean tragedy written in approximately 1602. In the play, Odysseus tells Achilles that “perseverance...Keeps honour bright: to have done is to hang/ Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail/ In monumental mockery.” For Tennyson’s Ulysses, to become idle is to become dull like unused metal. However, to persevere against idleness offers hope; by sailing into “the western stars,” Ulysses may find paradise instead of the “eternal silence” of the underworld.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Troy was the ancient city where the legendary Trojan War took place. In Greek mythology, Ulysses, which is the Latin name for Odysseus, was a champion in the decade-long siege that began after Paris of Troy abducted Helen from Sparta. Much of the battle took place on the plain of Scamander, across from the city of Troy.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Tennyson employs personification when he has Ulysses describe the sea as being “vext,” or angered, by the stars in the Hyades. Personifying the sea not only creates a more vivid image of Ulysses’s memories, but also it establishes a visually stark contrast between his former and present life.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. The Hyades is a V-shaped cluster of stars within the constellation Taurus. According to Greek mythology, the Hyades were the five daughters of Atlas and sisters of the Pleiades and Hesperides. The Hyades were believed to have been transformed, weeping, into a group of stars after the death of their brother Hyas. For millennia, the Hyades stars were believed to forecast rain when they rose with the sun.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. To “scud” means to move rapidly as if being driven to move forward. Ulysses is recalling a memory of being caught in a downpour during a sea storm.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. The noun “lees” is another word for the sediment that settles at the bottom of wine barrels during the fermentation process. To “drink life to the lees” is another way of saying that one “lives life to the fullest.” Ulysses further engages with the metaphor of drinking in line 16 when he remembers having “drunk delight of battle” in his younger days. In this context, Ulysses suggests that he truly lived life in his younger days, whereas now he is unsatisfied.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. The verb phrase “to mete and dole” means to give or measure out. Ulysses rules over a “savage race,” doling out laws to subjects who do not care about who he is.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor