Explain the line “It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags…” from Ulysses

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. (Lines 1-5)

This portion is taken from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses. Ulysses, the Greek hero, here gives out his disgust at his dull and drab life as the inactive king of the little island of Ithaca.

Ulysses has come back home after spending ten years fighting his country’s battle at Troy and another ten years in the eventful voyages of adventure on the wild seas. After his wonderful enterprises abroad, he does not find any interest in his monotonous life at home. He does not like to live an idle and comfortable life by the domestic fireside in the company of his aged wife. He also does not like the idea of ruling over the rocky island of Ithaca, where the laws are imperfect and the people uncivilized. The people of his country are all ease-loving. They know only to amass money, sleep and feed themselves. They are happy when their physical needs are satisfied. Such people are incapable of appreciating the lofty ideals of a man, like Ulysses.

These lines reveal Ulysses’s contempt for a dull, colourless life as a ruler and husband. They also mark his bitter criticism of the people, who know nothing more than food and sleep and riches.

Also read: Ulysses and his ideal of life in Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses”