I’ve always loved poetry, but not always for the right reasons. When I was younger, I think I liked it because I knew who Emily Dickinson was, or who E.E. Cummings was, and some of the other kids around me didn’t. But I didn’t really know who these people were, only that it was important to know these people, even if all I knew was a name and one famous poem.
Then my first semester at DePauw, I took a class from possibly the most difficult, but incredible, professor in the entire institution – Andrea Sununu. You can read all about her in this article written by one of my peers. The class was British Writers and I thought I would do so well. I had, in fact, already read Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontës. I had convinced myself that I would ace the class. But I didn’t. I struggled and cried, I pushed, I went crazy with the workload, but I remember one night towards the end of the semester – I was down in the first floor lounge of Humbert Hall sitting on the floor, staring out the windows and watching the snow falling gently in the Dells. It was then that I knew – this is how it was supposed to be. I was supposed to struggle all semester, cry and whine so that I could get to that peaceful moment, that bliss of understanding.
One of my favorite poems, one poem that has always stuck with me, is Ulysses by Lord Alfred Tennyson. I’ve bolded the quotations that are meaningful to me. Maybe you’ll feel the familiar tug like I do.
Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
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.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am 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.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three runs to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,–
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me–
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads –you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil:
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Simply haunting. Can’t you just see Ulysses, pleading with his comrades? His determination and spirit have always amazed me. Ulysses doesn’t want to succumb to old age – he wants to keep fighting, keep adventuring, keep going. That last line has been hanging somewhere on my wall since I first read this poem. “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” means that life is always an adventure. There is always something knew to find, something new to look for. This poem reminds me to never stop looking, never stop going.
What poem inspires you?