“I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’…” explain the lines from Tennyson’s “Ulysses”

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. (Lines 18-21)

This is a part of the monologue of Ulysses of Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses. The words express the great Greek hero’s wide experience and knowledge, as also his intense eagerness to get more experience and more knowledge.

Ulysses asserts that he has ever been eager to see and know more and more. He visited different lands and came across the men, manners, climates, and governments of various places. But he is not content with what he has seen and learnt. He thinks that there are many things to know and learn yet. Here he compares his experience to an arched gateway through which one can see the limitless world, that lies beyond. But as a man approaches this unknown world, it recedes farther and farther away from him. What Ulysses means to say is that a man’s capacity for knowledge is limited, but the range of his knowledge is vast and his ideals are unattainable. He can have only a glimpse of knowledge, but cannot see the whole of it.

Herein is found the great ideal of Tennyson’s Ulysses, which is well expressed through the analogy of the ‘arch’. It is the ideal that ever yearns for the unattainable goal of perfection. Of course, as drawn by Tennyson, he seems here to be rather lost in craving for knowing more and seeing more.

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