BBC Radio 4, 2 August 2009
Written in 1833 and revised for publication in 1842, "Ulysses" draws
on Homer and Dante to create a poem that not only carries mythological significance, but possesses an important contemporary
meaning as the speaker resolves to push onward in spite of the fact that "death closes all." Tennyson wrote the poem immediately
after the death from an aueurism of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam in 1833 while still in his twenties. While grieving
for the loss, Tennyson vows to brave life's struggles.
Beaty Rubens' documentary had the poet Sean O'Brien interviewing numerous authorities
in an attempt to discover the reasons for the poem's enduring significance. "Ulysses" deals with the desire to reach beyond
one's limited field of vision and transcend everyday life, to "roam the globe" in search of new experiences. Hence Tennyson's
use of the blank verse form, which goes beyond the limits imposed by rhyme to discover new possibilities for the English language.
The poem's perpetual restlessness was admirably conveyed in Anton Lesser's reading, full of jerky rhythms and irregular pauses.
The Ulyssess of myth might have been incompetent as a ruler, but he still looks forward to the future; it is this quality,
coupled with a desire not to be defeated by circumstances, that makes this poem important for all readers.