I first read Tennyson’s “Ulysses” many moons ago, during the final year of my undergrad programme. An acute case of itchy feet had derailed my university studies — I’d taken off to Australia before I could complete my degree. When I returned, I had a little chat with myself and decided while that the working abroad thing had been fun and all, it was time to settle down and focus on more serious things: finishing school, starting a career, etc.
Barely two months later, sitting in an English Lit lecture, I discovered this remarkable poem, and all the restlessness I thought I’d worked out of my system came rushing back. Even now, as a recovering expat, this excerpt stirs my soul.
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;
I am a 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!