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.
The poem begins by telling us that a king gains nothing from just sitting around by the fire with his wife and making laws for people who don't even know him.
The speaker at first seems at to be some kind of observer or impersonal figure who knows a lot about how to be a king, but in line 3 we learn that the king himself, Ulysses, is speaking.
The phrase "it little profits" is another way of saying, "it is useless" or "it isn't beneficial."
"Mete" means "to allot" or "measure out." Here it refers to the king's allotment of rewards and punishments to his subjects.
"Unequal" doesn't mean that the rewards and punishments are unjust or unfair, but rather variable.
"Match'd" doesn't refer to a tennis match or other sporting event; it means something like "paired" or "partnered with."
Ulysses' subjects are presented to us as a large group of drones who do nothing but eat and sleep.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades Vexed the dim sea:
After his moralistic opening, Ulysses tells us more about why sitting around doling out rewards and punishments bores him.
We learn that he is a restless spirit who doesn't want to take a break from roaming the ocean in search of adventure. He will not let life pass him by.
The word "lees" originally referred to the sediment accumulated at the bottom of a bottle of wine; to "drink life to the lees" means to drink to the very last drop. Nowadays we might say something like "live life to the fullest."
Ulysses tells us that he has had a lot of good times and a lot of bad times, sometimes with his best friends, and sometimes alone, both on dry land and while sailing through potentially destructive storms.
"Scudding drifts" are pounding showers of rain that one might encounter at sea during a storm or while crab fishing off the coast of Alaska.
The "Hyades" are a group of stars in the constellation Taurus often associated with rain; their rising in the sky generally coincides with the rainy season. Here they are presented as agitators of the ocean.