I can see that this poem captures the feelings of someone old enough to have had exciting experiences, but still young enough to have energy and desire to have more. When I was young I “shook earth and heaven” along with my peers in whatever we did. Be it the various childhood acts mischievousness or the silly competitions at the school.
In the past, critics often regarded Ulysses as a determined and brave hero, admiring him for his perseverance “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” It seems as if Tennyson meant to describe a hero because this is how he has written about it elsewhere, mentioning that the death of a dear friend inspired him.
The speaker tells how he has safely arrived back in his own kingdom of Ithaca, after a long hazardous voyage back to his family after fighting in the Trojan Wars. Home life seems dull and safe by comparison and instead of being grateful for victory and safe deliverance home, Ulysses tells of his restlessness, and his discontentment with the “savage race” that he leads. The glories and honors of his fighting past seem far away as he considers his aging and looming death.
Ulysses accomplished so much, and spent so much of his energy and youth in doing so. He learned things that no one else had ever seen, and he and his men pushed themselves to the limit in accomplishing their goals. Once you have done things like that, once you have pushed yourself to the limit, finding your limits, and still pushing, finding yourself no longer needing to do so is like becoming a rubber band no longer being stretched. The sense of let-down is fierce, and can be depressing. Ulysses shows signs of this, but his inner strength, the strength that he and his men used to get through their trials, won’t let him succumb to depression. To use a trivial expression, he seems to be experiencing a “mid-life crisis”.
The Odyssey is about Ulysses and his crew trying to make it home to Ithaca. Ulysses has plenty of misfortunes on his way home and a little bit of good luck. "Yet all gods had pitied Lord Odysseus, all but Poseidon, raging cold and rough against the brave king till he came ashore at last on his own land." (line 10) This line shows that The Odyssey has gods and humans interacting. Gods and goddesses ...
However, Ulysses is wise enough to know that, while he still has strength, he can still accomplish great deeds, tempered by the understanding that they would not be as great as the ones he and his men already accomplished. He realizes that they don’t have to be great, but they can be true to themselves, and just because they are old, they are not dead yet, they can still live lives of learning and exploring, taking a last journey for the journey’s sake.
Ulysses also understands that he is free to do so, because his son Telemachus is ready and able to take the reins of authority from him. Ulysses also wants what’s best for his people, and he realizes that they need someone who can rule them, not someone whose heart is not truly in the endeavor. He realizes that he lacks the skills and the desire to be the leader, even as he uses disparaging words to describe those skills that Telemachus has. He acknowledges that though they are different, he does not disparage Telemachus himself, just admits that they will do things differently.