Poetic treatments of journey in Tennyson s Ulysses and Dickinsons Because I could not stop for death

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English Literature written exercise on Tennyson and Dickinson Task: Compare and contrast these two different poetic treatments of the idea of journey. Focus on subject matter, compositional techniques including narrative voice and structure, style (especially choice of language) and what you take to be the authors’ values and intentions.

Length: 1200-1500 words.

Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death”, and Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Ulysses” are two vastly different poems written several decades apart that both focus centrally on the idea of a journey. “Because I could not stop for Death” was written in about 1860 by Emily Dickinson, an unconventional nineteenth century American poet. In 1833, Lord Alfred Tennyson, a well-educated Romantic poet, wrote “Ulysses”. In developing their respective poems around central theme of a journey, both Tennyson and Dickinson’s protagonists themselves experience and undertake journeys, the natures of which however are vastly different. The journey’s described are not only very different in their substance, but in the way that the poets develop and explore the journeys their protagonists undertake. Despite their differences however, both of the poems share a fixation with death as a journey, though there is contrast in how this is explored.

Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, two journey’s are explored, the first being the journey of the speaker Ulysses upon his return from the battle of Troy, during which he experiences greatness and develops a craving for adventure. The second journey is the journey that which his experiences have inspired him to desire to undertake, a journey of fulfilment and “to follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought”. Ulysses’ is intensely dissatisfied at the prospect wasting his existence as a stagnant ruler. In the first stanza Ulysses reflects on the travel and adventures that have shaped the very essence of his being, saying “I am a part of all that I have met”, detailing his restlessness in remaining stationary and without adventure in the line “How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!”(Lines 23-24) The second part of the poem is a call to Ulysses’ faithful mariners to join him on his quest for fulfilment, as “some work of noble work may yet be done/ not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.” He believes that do so is his purpose “for my purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all western stars, until I die.”

The theme of journey depicted in Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is viewed through the desire of the protagonist to undertake a quest, travelling to the far reaches of the earth and searching for knowledge and fulfilment. The form of the poem, dramatic monologue, highlights the speakers’ perception that his is a valiant, noble quest, as it leaving the reader with the impression of a powerful leader rousing his troops before leading them to battle. The melodic rhythm of the blank verse, which is written in unrhymed iambic pentameter throughout most of the poem, however this rhythm gives the impression of movement, moving forward, reflecting Ulysses desire to not remaining stationary. This rhythm and sensation of movement is further developed through Tennyson’s use of enjambment, where the sentence is followed through to the next line, establishing a natural, journey-like progression throughout the poem. The lines “To follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought.” (lines 32-33) is a key example of this. The enjambment here causes the reader to stress the word “beyond”, a word that conjures imagery of a place to reach towards, the final destination of a journey. The rhythm of the poem is also influenced by the use of monosyllabic words paired together to form sentences reinforce the forward movement of the poem, seen in the line “that hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.” This poetic forward motion ties in...
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