Scientific Journal Of King Faisal University
Basic and Applied Sciences


Scientific Journal of King Faisal University / Humanities and Management Sciences

Activity versus Disengagement in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” and “Tithonus” A Gerontological View

(Afra Saleh Alshiban)


In past decades, gerontologists made considerable progress in the study of old age and aging via clinical research. Their work illuminates the experience of growing old, including lifestyle issues in declining years, cognitive development and wisdom, relationships between generations, and the elderly as mythical figures. Recently, scholars from diverse fields also noted this neglected segment of the population and made major contributions to the study of old age. Writers began to create mature protagonists and to focus on gerontological issues such as Alzheimer’s, loss, loneliness, fear, and faith. Literary critics too provided reference texts to literature and aging and celebrated the literary imagination of aging authors. The present study addresses the experience of aging in two dramatic monologues by Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), “Ulysses” (1842) and “Tithonus” (1860), which explore the issue of continued activity versus disengagement. In “Tithonus,” the changes associated with growing old strongly influence the speaker; aging is a process of destruction, degradation, and deterioration. By contrast, in “Ulysses,” the speaker shows little concern for his physical transformation, perceiving growing old as an opportunity for further development. Both speakers face the choices of activity or inertia; their eventual decisions reveal Tennyson’s insight into the process of aging. This study differs from others in its emphasis on gerontology. Tennyson, although a nineteenth-century poet, explores elderliness in the manner of a professional; his treatment transcends disciplinary divisions between literature and gerontology and deserves recognition. KeyWords: Aging, Gerontology, Interdisciplinary, Old age, Poetry, Tennyson.