To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield
"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." - Alfred Lord Tennyson.
From his extraordinary poem Ulysses. The complete excerpt reads:
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
The poem can be read in many ways. Thematically it's about the aging King Odysseus having a late-life crisis and embarking on one last adventure, which will incidentally lead to his death (and, if we read the poem as a prequel to Dante's Inferno, will also lead to his damnation). As poet laureate of Great Britain, it can also be read as an ode to an aging empire.
But Tennyson conveyed that the real impetus for the poem was the sudden and untimely death of his friend Arthur Hallam. And therefore the poem reads most powerfully as a response to mortality.
How do we confront that ultimate tragedy? Tennyson says with character, companionship and courage. It's no wonder he drew inspiration from Greek myth. In a way, the poetic urge, the act of creation, the verse it generates, and the joy it brings the reader is itself a palliative.
In the illustration, a lighthouse rises above a raging sea, its light forming the hub of a ship wheel.
Watch Robert Sean Leonard read Ulysses in Dead Poet's Society: