Like I said, I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for a while. I finally decided to pull the trigger yesterday at the gym when my friend Rick told me about Tennyson’s poem, “Ulysses.” Rick recently finished his second book of poetry and was feeling a similar sense of joy and relief as I. We were talking about the challenges of writing, how much this art, this life demands. I admitted that writing my novel had taken me to emotional places I never thought I’d go: the heights of exhilaration, the pit of despair. We agreed that no matter how agonizing the process could sometimes be, neither of us would ever give up. We’d keep pushing. We’d keep reaching. Because the questions we are both asking, the conversations we’re having with ourselves, with our work aren’t over. There’s still so much to figure out. That’s when Rick said, “I’m reminded of a Tennyson poem . . .”
The poem is narrated by Ulysses (or Odysseus), who, after twenty years of adventure is now an old man. He’s back home, is feeling restless, and is considering setting off again. I love how Tennyson captures Ulysses’s sense of longing, his impatience, his curiosity and barely contained desire. Ulysses can hardly hold himself steady as he imagines what’s out there waiting to be discovered. Oh, the urgency! The anxiety! Ulysses has to find a way to keep pushing, exploring, seeking. He will never give up. And yet, there’s the sense that time is running out . . .
Believe me when I say I know this feeling.
So here it is. My apologies for butchering this masterpiece but it’s a really long poem:
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 loves me, and alone, on shore, when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart . . .
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.
. . . Come, my friends.
‘Tis 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.
There you have it. Pretty amazing, right? Rick says that if he could, he’d tattoo the last line on his breast bone. I have to agree. That’s what I love about being a writer. The journey will never be over.