15. Sep, 2018


Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), Poet Laureate, did not only write "The Charge of the Light Brigade" but a large body of other work that included a particular favourite of mine, "Ulysses". I first read it aged 16 for my "O" levels. I understood it but it did not resonate with me. Sixty years on, it does...as an inspiration.


Ulysses a.k.a. Odysseus is one of literature's great heroes. In the Iliad, Homer depicts him as the King of Ithaca who leads a contingent in the great task force of Agamemnon sailing to Troy to reclaim Helen, the wife of Menelaus.

After a siege that dragged on for ten years, it was Odysseus who devised the ploy of the wooden horse. Containing Odysseus and his small task force it was left outside the gates of Troy as an apparent peace offering as the Greek task force sailed away....so they did but only a short way round the coast. Once the Trojans had celebrated themselves stupid, by a quick overland yomp the Greek force presented itself once again outside the walled city. Odysseus and co then crept out of the horse and opened the gates....


With Troy destroyed, Odysseus and the rest of the fleet sailed for home, but so began what was to be a ten year voyage before he and his crew were to get there thanks to wind, tide and the enmity of the gods.

When he finally did return he found his kingdom left to rack and ruin and infested with suitors for his faithful wife's hand. He made small shrift of that lot in a particularly violent "cleansing of the stables" and settled down to restore his kingdom and rule in peace.

In Tennyson's poem, however, Ulysses is portrayed not as the all-conquering mature hero {"The Sacker of Cities) but in old age bored and burdened by a routine that is stifling still-burning ambition. Hands up all of you who have not been there!
If you never read another poem, please go the extra mile to read and understand this one., especially its last six lines…

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.”

(Yeah. Bring it on!

DTF 2018)






Please do yourself a favour and take time out to study and think about this ...)

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 forever 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 sceptre 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,
'T is 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.