Ulysses and Tithonus are narrated by two men, who are both very much unhappy. They both want different to change but want contrasting things. Inevitably though each wish they have is most likely to end up in death. Tithonus was a handsome man in his youth and this got him the love of a goddess Dawn. This drove him to ask her to grant him the gift of immortality. However Tithonus was casual in his demands and forgot to ask for eternal youth, the thing he really craved. Tithonus thought he was special and wanted to be different from other people and continue to have Dawn’s love.
By the time Tithonus has grown old he can’t feel her love anymore and wishes to be the same as the people he envies. He just wants to get back the power to die like any other human. He questions ‘ why should a man desire in any way to vary from the kindly race of men’. Ulysses however does want to be different and has no thoughts of anything different. He wants to be famous and talks about himself as being full of energy and something of a hero. He claims to be and ‘ idle king’ and singles himself out from others.
He believes the people ‘ that hoard, and sleep, and feed and know not me’ are so different from himself. Being ruler of Ithaca – something most power hungry people would be satisfied – with its ‘ common duties’, is not enough for Ulysses. He wants to go on adventures on his ships, he is bored with who he is, he wants drastic change and quickly. Ulysses has the belief that as long as something is done greatly it doesn’t matter about the outcome. This is shown in his line ‘ I have enjoyed greatly, have suffer’d greatly’. Like Tithonus’ wish, death is likely to be the eventual outcome.
At the time the story is told Ulysses and Tithonus are very different people. Ulysses is in prime condition whereas Tithonus is at the stage where his feet are beginning to become wrinkly. Tithonus also seems very selfless and caring towards Dawn, he explains he cannot understand why she still loves him, and he can’t feel the same way towards her as he did. He tells her that she would be better off somewhere else. However questions of selfishness do creep into this; Tithonus is still thinking of himself and is not prepared to except the consequences of his extensive requests.
He is looking for the quick way out, without considering the feelings that might arise in others. Ulysses on the other hand is completely egotistic towards everyone. At home he has a devoted wife and a son, yet all he years for is a daring life at sea. He doesn’t reflect on the past and all the things his wife has done for him, he ignores his son just to get his celebrity status back and fulfil his greedy endeavours. The messages of the two poems are complete opposites. Tithonus is making us question, is being exceptional really a good thing?
He says he wants to be normal and by asking for his wish to be taken back, he is admitting he made a mistake in wanting to be different. Ulysses however, sends out the clear message that being a celebrity and different are the up most things to be in life. Both poems are written in Iambic Pentameter but Tithonus and Ulysses have contrasting feels to them. Tithonus is very slow and the open vowels give the feeling of self pity and unhappiness. In contrast Ulysses is very quick and full of energy, directly related to the character of Ulysses and the life he craves.
Tithonus is so old he starts to question if he was ever young, ‘ I used to watch-if I be he that watch’d’. He fell in love with a goddess but he now is prepared to give that up and hurt her just so he can die. Even after the things she did for him he doesn’t spare a thought for her feeling. Even if he cannot feel her love like he used to, he should respect Dawn before ordering her to do what he wants. The fact that when she rises he feels cold should not matter as long as they have love. She doesn’t mind if his ‘ cold are his lights and cold my wrinkled feet’ but he uses this as an excuse.
She cares for him, looks after him and even feels guilty for granting him his wish. Tithonus however des nothing to change her views and just begs her to take it back and accuses her for his problems, all shown in the line ‘ beat me down and marr’d and wasted me’. Here he blames her for a mistake he made when asking for his gift. Ulysses is the same, his wife has waited twenty years for his return and remained his wife and yet he doesn’t spare a thought for the misery he will cause her by leaving. As long as he is happy he doesn’t care what happens to others.
He believes his son becoming king will make up for the loss of his father. Tithonus and Ulysses both come across as miserable people. They have the same basic reason for this feeling; they both want their lives to change dramatically but for different reasons. Ulysses wants more adventure in his and Tithonus wants to do the thing to stop life completely, die. They both have similar characteristics; they are selfish, impetuous and quick to blame others. Overall the poems have the feeling of sadness but one is quicker, one is sad to contrast the two wishes they have.