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Ulysses

Ulysses

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Stars

Symbol Analysis

Before the compass was invented, sailors used the stars to guide them. Ulysses has done a lot of sailing, so it's no surprise that stars come up several times in the poem. The stars in this poem, however, are always doing more than looking pretty; they have the power to affect things on earth, and they're also handy as metaphors for Ulysses' experiences and desires.

  • Lines 10-11: Ulysses describes how the "rainy Hyades," a group of stars in the constellation Taurus, caused storms at sea. Of course, the stars didn't literally "vex" the sea; Ulysses gives a human attribute to a non-human object, which is called personification.
  • Line 20: Ulysses compares the "untravelled world" to a gleaming object. Though he doesn't call it a star, the fact that it's compared to some kind of celestial object "gleaming" out in space kind of makes one think of a star. Oh, and since the "untravelled world" isn't really a star, the gleaming object or planet is a metaphor for that world.
  • Line 29: Ulysses says it would be "vile" if he were to spend three years hoarding supplies and basically doing nothing. He says "three suns" (the sun is technically a star), by which he presumably means three complete revolutions of the earth around the sun.
  • Line 31: Ulysses here refers to a "sinking star," only it's not clear if that star is the knowledge he's seeking, or himself. Either way, he says "like a sinking star," which means this is a simile.
  • Line 54-5: Ulysses describes the onset of night and the appearance of the stars. Here, the description of night doubles as Ulysses' reflection on his own approaching "night," his own death. The end of a day is a metaphor for death in this passage.
  • Lines 60-1: Ulysses describes how the stars rest in a body of water that the Greeks believed surrounded the earth. He mentions the "baths" of the stars in order to convey how far beyond the known world he wants to travel.

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