What Is the Poem "Ulysses" by Tennyson About?

Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses" retells the story of Ulysses and his final sea voyage from Homer's "The Odyssey" and from Dante's "Inferno," in which the ill-fated Ulysses ends up in the Underworld. The poem also serves as a eulogy for Tennyson's friend Arthur Henry Hallam, whose death inspired the dramatic monologue.

Unable and unwilling to enjoy retirement, Ulysses tells his wife, Penelope, that he must leave, because only at sea does he feel like himself. He decides to let his son Telemachus rule in his absence but thinks that ruling a country is not a fitting career for a man as accomplished as himself. Because the poem is a monologue, Penelope and Telemachus do not get the chance to weigh in on Ulysses' decision, though he is resolute and unwilling to consider staying home or taking on a lesser voyage.

He urges his men, many of whom sailed and fought with him, to come with him, even though he doesn't plan to return. He offers them hope that they may reach a sort of paradise, the place where Greek gods end up after heroic deaths. Ulysses admits that while they may no longer appear seaworthy, their voyage is to be steadfast and sure and bring them the kind of life unavailable to them while anchored in place.