For one thing, we don’t speak in iambic pentameter, And I — Chelios — am wont an idle tongue But someone has to speak for these men. The last time you spoke glowing adventure You returned alone. Scylla, Charybdis, enraged Poseidon Took the rest. Your men were bound for Happy Isles, Or did you forget? Your goddess was your shield, The others wore brilliant medallions and charms To thwart what undid them. Another crew was needed, And we were scraped to fend oysters and squid. We do that best, not sail the arch-less Aegean. No one not blind saw the glean in your eyes When we returned that night, and heard your rue. You wanted passport to Achilles you believed blest Since he was plucked in undiminished glory. You, though, have reigned in calm you deem a curse. You’ve become a name detached from the tale. We are old, Ulysses, and don’t take for granted the wives Who penelopized while these oars churned the seas. What makes you think we share your zeal for Quests? Ours is internal. We depart, penetrate, return the same day Sometimes having never left the hearth. We billet where we are. Do you recall what you said of Sirens When we gathered at your feet long ago? You invoked Oedipus when he broke the Sphinx Except you were ‘not meant to sully unholy wombs.’ Your words, not mine. Yet in all my years I’ve never seen A man more mothered by his wife. You snap your thumb And she’s brought you an amphora filled with wine Ere the sound leaves the room. Our women don’t coddle, nor would they condone Calypso. Yours does! Must be the charisma in your eyes, hair, penis, While the beautiful wife spies the clock and wonders How happy you make those! Understand? For twenty years You pined Penelope. Now another twenty has passed, And you want to leave, as though Sirens beckoned your blood With some retroactive seed ticking inside. Twenty years you mused Telemachus growing up Sans a father. You even cried when, disguised a beggar, Here on Ithaca you finally touched flesh and blood. Now another twenty has passed, and you’re primed to leave him Fatherless again, to leave the scepter, to endure His inquiry: was it something he said? You’re like the javelin throw whose length has been clipped By a younger man, and not dying young, You hazard a second chance since shattered feats In prideful eyes is worse than death. You were chaired through The Columns, heralded agoras, but since your spear wallowed You would challenge Apollo to be best, Or pursue a whale halfway round the world If you thought it mangled your dignity Though your crew begged you to abandon chase. Did you choose unwisely at some prenatal feast, Unlike Achilles, who died his apex Before fame faded into ember and ash, While you, my lord, chose a peaceful death? I’ve been harboring this these long years, This Sirenic tale and how, lashed to mast, You claim you heard that singing, and lived to regale Crews with the deed. The others stuffed beeswax In their ears obeying your wish. But I don’t think They would have heard the sweet sounds anyway. The Sirens chose your ears alone. What did they chant, I wonder. What made their tones irresistible, Countermanding your order, blaring they untie you at once And sail the source, as though their voices swallowed. The reason’s not curved like a Sphinx. Why, Ulysses, they were singing of you! Of your prowess on the field and in the sheets, How you conjugate the trickiest Macedonian verbs. They sang your grand feats, for what man Can resist the air resonating his deft deeds? Your crew would have been deaf regardless. Only he with the most belted notches Is swayed by Sirens. They planted a seed That’s made you restless all these years. A virus wrought by witches, Fructified ennui, for which there’s no cure but death. Therefore we, never glanced by fame or Sirenic kiss, Will not peregrinate. We don’t think noble things Must be done to restore these names — -we hadn’t names to begin! We are old, Ulysses, and are glad having what We never lost. Glad with our women, daughters, sons. We don’t miss the Glory we weren’t fed. We’ll dash your wish to join dead Achilles, Who, by the way, warned you not to romanticize death. You want men to people the tableau glossing Your foreground. Hence this petition signed by all, Rebuffing this madness, your greatest splash. We beg your forgiveness slighting the world our debt.
- Text of Poem
- Kincaid's extended discussion of poem
- A Reading of "Ulysses"
- The Critical History of Tennyson's "Ulysses" (and what it has to tell us about the daramatic monologue)
- Discussion Questions — Various Interpretations
Last modified 22 November 2014