Crossing the Bar Summary and Analysis by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson- The Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson was born as the son of a clergyman. A student of Cambridge and a poet representative of the Victorian age, he had gained his momentum in the poetic world by 1840. Tennyson wrote voluminously and was known for his experimentation with meters. His two volumes of poetry published in the year 1842 brought him to limelight and Tennyson got deemed as a great poet. Wordsworth called him “the greatest of our living poets”.

Setting of Crossing The Bar-

With his simple yet ornate language, Tennyson wove a pictorial quality around his poetic descriptions.  In “Crossing the Bar”, one gets a clear glimpse of the poet’s predicament at the arrival of Death. The poem is considered to be an elegy and has a tone of finality. The poem is believed to have been written by Tennyson after suffering from a serious illness while on the sea. So we can find an extended metaphor of ocean, ship and death. Tennyson’s works were noted for the presence of intellectual and spiritual history of the Victorian period. The poem written during his last years do reflect the Victorian outlook of democratic sympathies and religious misgivings. Though literally poem is set in an oceanic backdrop, the poet clearly indicates his pointer towards the Neverland of Death and the voyage from life to death.

Poetic Devices in Crossing the Bar-

Line 2, 16: “the bar” – The sandbar can be considered as a figurative representation of the barrier between life and death.
Line 7: “the boundless deep” – There is a close resemblance to the deep sleep which is usually connected to death.
Line 9: “evening bell” – The death knell, which announces the arrival of death, is depicted through the “evening bell” in the poem.
Line 3: “And may there be no moaning of the bar” – The “bar” is given a human emotion of “moaning”, intensifying the tone of the poem.
Line 5: “such a tide as moving seems asleep” – The act of sleeping is used liberally to leave an impression of stillness during the arrival of death.
Line 15: “I hope to see my Pilot face to face” – Along with a lot of nautical references in the poem, the poet goes so far as to call Death the “Pilot”, giving it recognition as a person who shall navigate his final journey.

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“Sunset and evening star (A)
And one clear call for me! (B)
And may there be no moaning of the bar,(A)
When I put out to sea, (B)
But such a tide as moving seems asleep, (C)
Too full for sound and foam, (D)
When that which drew from out the boundless deep(C)
Turns again home.” (D)
As in the first two stanzas, the pattern of traditional alternating rhyming in the external rhyme scheme is followed in the last two stanzas too, giving the entire poem an ABAB CDCD EFEF GAGA rhyme scheme.


We can find three different kinds of meter in the poem:-
Line 12: Iambic dimeter – “When I embark”
Line 2: Iambic trimester – “And one clear call for me!”
Line 3: Iambic pentameter – “And may there be no moaning of the bar”

Summary of Crossing the Bar-

The poem “Crossing the Bar”, was written in 1889, three years before Tennyson’s death. In the poem, the speaker sees his wake-up call for the journey, in the “sunset” and “evening star”. He wishes to have a peaceful voyage in the ocean without any “moaning” sound of waves hitting against the sand bar when he sets out. There is boundless desire for a tide “too full for sound and foam”, that it cannot create any sound and therefore seems to be deep in sleep, unaware of the chaos beneath fathoms of ocean even when it “turns again home”. With the onset of “twilight” and ringing of the “evening bell”, the day comes to an end and darkness pitches in. There is a deep resemblance to the arrival of death and the process of bidding adieu in the last two stanzas. The speaker hopes that no one laments over his demise, because he has had his fair share of life and when he crosses to the land beyond time and space, he intends to look upon the face of his “Pilot”, the Death. Using the extended metaphor of voyage, Tennyson creates a realm of death in the waves of seamless ocean.

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Critical Analysis of Crossing the Bar-

The poem is an interplay of three themes, namely; Death, Old Age and Home. “Crossing the Bar” is about passing through the boundary of sandbar to cross the field of life to that of death. The poet embraces his nearing death and wants to face it upright. As a believer, he accepts the condition of his old age and wants to leave the realm of life silently, leaving no mourners behind. He speaks of Death as a new beginning and gleefully approaches it. He sets sail from the harbour of life, but it is not an end, rather a new land of hope. He feels as though he is returning home after a long tiring journey. The true home for soul is with Lord and Death brings one closer to Him.

Tone of Crossing the Bar-

The poem is filled with anticipation of death and the final return to one’s real abode. Though at first glance one might find the poem morbid, the true essence starts to kick-in as one moves towards the end of the poem. The speaker is filled with positive emotions of returning home that he hopes that no one will lament over his death. Tennyson quite elegantly takes the reader through the land of Life to Death, carefully crossing the sandbar and reaching out for the final destination.

Central Idea of Crossing the Bar-

Tennyson uses many nautical terms such as bar, sea, foam, pilot, bell and flood to refer death and journey towards death. An example of this is the “boundless deep” with an ambiguous meaning of death, deep sleep and the sea. The extended metaphor of sea voyage along with the difficulties faced during the journey and at the end the pleasure of reaching home, all points towards the central idea of one’s journey towards approaching death during the old age and the happiness in finally meeting one’s Lord.
Conclusion- “Crossing the Bar” means navigating a difficult spot. The poem portrays the life voyage we all must take, hoping that we all will find acceptance on crossing the bar of life. Death is never an end, rather a new beginning, making the journey of life one complete cycle. The urge to reach the land beyond time and place makes one forgo the worldly aspects of life and accept the inevitable death.

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