Summary and Analysis of “Crossing the bar” by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Critical Analysis of Crossing the Bar

The anticipation of his death by the writer in this poem is expressed in metaphorical language. This poem represents Tennyson’s beliefs in the immortality of the soul and in the existence of a Divine spirit.  Here, dying is compared to a ship’s crossing the bar. His journey from this world to the other, after his death, is compared to a ship that goes into the open sea after crossing the bar. Like the ship’s sailing from the harbour is facilitated by a full tide, the poet also wishes for a full tide that is not noisy or violent but peaceful; the one that leads him to the open sea after his life ends. This 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 chief ideas emphasised in this poem are that death is the ultimate inevitability in a man’s life and thus when is comes, we should be prepared to face it. A man must imagine himself going on a journey beyond his death where he would get to meet God face to face.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.
In literature, twilight is often compared to an approaching doom or death. Twilight is followed by darkness which suggests death. The poet demands no sadness on his departure from this world. He wants to accept death for the inevitability that it is and make a happy exit with no regrets.
The course of a ship, as it gets into a totally different and unknown ocean, cannot be predicted beforehand. Similarly, there is no proof or guarantee regarding where a man goes after his death. When the ship of the poet’s life has been carried far away from the harbour, i.e, when he is has crossed the boundary between his present life and his next life, he hopes to see the pilot of human life(God) face to face.

Tennyson was very fond of intricate patterns of lines and attractive rhyme schemes. There are a total of four stanzas in the poem, each consisting of 4 lines. He has chosen a type of verse which brings into limelight the symbolism of a ship starting its journey and moving forward by overcoming waves that rise and fall rhythmically. However, in the end, Tennyson contemplates death with a calm and undisturbed mind.

Summary of Crossing the Bar

The poem “Crossing the Bar”, was written in 1889, three years before Tennyson’s death.
The poem begins with a note of an inevitable end. 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 sandbar 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.

Poetic devices

Crossing the bar” contains a number of poetic devices namely metaphor, alliteration, personification and symbolism.

1.Metaphor- It is a figure of speech in which a comparison between two different things is implied, but not clearly stated. Examples of metaphor in the poem are-
1. God is compared to a “Pilot” who guides the destiny of individuals on earth. Man should be able to meet him face to face after his death. God in heaven is the ultimate destination of all of us who are born in this world.

2. The boundary between life and death is represented by the “bar”. Like a sandbar forms a gap between the harbour and the sea, in the poem it suggests the ridge between life and death.

2.Alliteration- It is a figure of speech in which the close repetition of consonant sounds, usually at the beginning of words, is seen in a sentence. Instances of alliteration in the poem are-
When that which drew
And one clear call for me!
The flood may be far
Too full for sound and foam

3.Personification- It is a figure of speech in which abstract ideas of inanimate objects are invested with attributes of living beings. Example-
“And may there be no moaning of the bar”

In this sentence, the inanimate object bar has been given human-like attribute of “moaning”.

4.Symbolism- Lord Tennyson has used a number of symbolic images to suggest the hidden meaning of the poem in a more subtle and enriching manner. Some examples of symbols used in the poem are-
1. bar(sandbar) representing the boundary between life and death
2. Sunset, twilight and dark representing old age leading to the impending death of the speaker
3. “Home” representing earth or the idea of being born again
4. Clear call and evening bell representing impending death

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Abhishek is a marketing research and social media consultant who developed a keen interest in blogging. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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