What Does Ulysses Mean by His Metaphor Describing "All Experiences"?

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In Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” the aged and idle hero declaims his past glories, his current restlessness, and his undying desire for new horizons. While reminiscing on his life, Ulysses says that "all experience is an arch" through which he sees “that untraveled world,” the promise of the future. In this sense, experience is a fixed and overarching structure in the mind, though open enough to admit the light of the future.

Beyond the Arch of Experience

Ulysses’ multifarious memories make up this metaphorical arch. He recalls “cities of men / And manners, climates, councils, governments.” He recalls battles with his friends “on the ringing plains of windy Troy.” It is the new, not the old, that Ulysses glimpses through the arch of his own experience. Even if he can never reach the margin of that untraveled world, even if he can never fully move beyond himself, beyond what he has become, he will try. For the great hero is determined “To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars, until I die.”


  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry; ed. Margaret Ferguson et al. (2005)

About the Author

Scott Neuffer is an award-winning journalist and writer who lives in Nevada. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and spent five years as an education and business reporter for Sierra Nevada Media Group. His first collection of short stories, "Scars of the New Order," was published in 2014.

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