Ulysses here is the speaker in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses”. By the term ‘drink life to the lees,’ Ulysses refers to his desire to exhaust all the possibilities of life. Just as a glass of drink can be enjoyed to the last dregs, so, too, Ulysses proposes to utilize the blessing of his life to the last point.
Ulysses has a checkered career. He has ‘enjoyed’ and ‘suffered’ greatly alone and in the company of his beloved crew. He has faced ‘the thunder and the sunshine’ with an unfailing spirit. He has ‘seen and known’ much, and received no ignoble honour from different countries. As a great warrior, he drunk delight of battle’ with his peers ‘far on the ringing plains of windy Troy’. He fought there even with gods, with a dauntless breast. He has gathered, in short, a great variety of experiences both on lands and on the wide sea.
Now Ulysses rules the hilly country of Ithaca. But the work of an idle king does not at all suit him. A desire to see and learn more new things almost maddens him. He cannot rest from travel. He must drink ‘life to the lees’.
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Ulysses, therefore, proposes to spend the rest of his life not in rest and inaction, but in ceaseless movements and activities. The best part of his life is over, and he will live only a few years more. But he is determined to use every moment of his short life, till left, profitably in order to gain new knowledge and experience. He resolves to ‘follow knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bound of human thought’, Ulysses has no circumscribed goal. He yearns for seeing the unseen, knowing the unknown and attaining the unattainable. His purpose of life is ‘to sail beyond the sunset and the baths of all the western stars’ till his death. He is now old. He has, no doubt, lost much of his youthful strength. Yet, his spirit has remained fresh and strong. He is still animated with an iron will that knows only ‘to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’
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