Friday, September 14, 2012

A Ulysses Kind of Day

Penelope and Odysseus
Relief, from Milo, c.450 BC (stone)
Louvre, Paris

Every now and then, I have a Ulysses kind of day.  Of course, those pixies at the DNC started it all with their video honoring Ted Kennedy, who loved to muck around with Tennyson's Ulysses (below).

Always, though, I end with Merwin's Odysseus, when my heart's strings can withstand the tug (below, below).

Alfred,Lord Tennyson : Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king1,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an agèd 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 enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades2
Vexed 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 honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy3.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though 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 grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

 This 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 through 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 toiled, 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 Isles4,
And see the great Achilles5, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
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.

Alfred,Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) 1833

1 In this poem, Ulysses (the Roman for Odysseus and the hero of Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey), 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; 2 a constellation of stars associated with rain; 3 site of the Trojan wars of which Ulysses was a hero; 4 the Elysian Fields, believed by some to be the resting place of heroes after death; 5 Greek hero of the Trojan wars who suffered an early death

Ruthlessly stolen from:

[Portable Poetry ...poems for your pocket]

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Portable Poetries are handmade, customised collections of poetry, small enough to fit in your wallet, purse, or backpocket. They're made with care, designed with the poetry lover in mind, and they make excellent gifts.
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Uploaded by  on Oct 24, 2009
David Hart is *remarkable*....


Always the setting forth was the same,
Same sea, same dangers waiting for him
As though he had got nowhere but older.
Behind him on the receding shore
The identical reproaches, and somewhere
Out before him, the unravelling patience
He was wedded to.  There were the islands
Each with its woman and twining welcome
To be navigated, and one to call “home.”
The knowledge of all that he betrayed
Grew till it was the same whether he stayed
Or went.  Therefore he went.  And what wonder
If sometimes he could not remember
Which was the one who wished on his departure
Perils that he could never sail through,
And which, improbable, remote, and true,
Was the one he kept sailing home to?
By: W.S.Merwin 


  1. I love poetry, although I must admit my taste is not as classical as yours. I like the English poets, Wordsworth's "Daffodils" Betjeman's "A Subaltern's Love Song" are 2 of my favourites, mostly because they are about places I know very well. The children had to learn a poem over the weekend when they were 8, which pi**ed me off considerably as I worked full time. I had more than enough to do in my free time than teach little children in my down time. So each child recited to the school on the Monday morning, Spike Milligan's (do you know him, a British legend) poem here copied in full.
    They don't have any stones,
    they don't have any pips,
    they don't have any bones and that's why I like chips.


  2. eljay-
    thought you might enjoy a few of these:


  3. hey tw -- repeated viewings have me cracking up with the "WTF" cat, every time. thanks!

    mary, dear, we still keep our best chamber ready for your visit (freshening the towels daily!).

    love to you both, and thank goodness for poetry, for imaginary toads in real gardens. or whatever...


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