"Crossing the Bar" by Alfred Lord Tennyson


Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a celebrated English poet of the 19th century, grew up digesting and composing poetry. He published several collections throughout his lifetime, ultimately receiving the title of Poet Laureate of England. In this short poem, Tennyson adopts an extended metaphor in which death is symbolized by a sea sandbar separating the deep water from the shallow. In this figurative language, to cross the bar signaled death, from which none return. He addresses the impending loss and separation from loved ones with rationality and acceptance, offering no hint of hesitation or mournfulness. Instead, he concludes his poem with hope as he contemplates a future meeting with the "Pilot" of the deep. The poem's alternation between long and short lines recalls the ebbing and flowing of waves and tides on the beach, granting the reader a vivid setting of the speaker.

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,

   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.

   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;

   For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.

Reflection Questions

  1. How does Tennyson seem to comprehend death?
  2. If the bar is a symbol for death, how would you interpret the rising tide "which drew from out the boundless deep turns again home"?
  3. Why do you think the speaker hopes that "there be no sadness of farewell"?
  4. How do you understand the first two lines of the last stanza?

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