As though to breathe were life

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!


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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5 Responses to As though to breathe were life

  1. I think “to shine in use” is my new motto. Thanks for this….lovely!

  2. Judy says:

    Are you suffering from the February blahs or just trying to induce them in others? 😉 Either way you’ve succeeded as I am definitely rusting away unburnished. It’s been far too long since I’ve been on a plane. *sigh*

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