Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson is one of the most impactful and deep poems written by the British poet. From the metaphors to the philosophical elements, let’s take a look at the poem and its analysis.
“Crossing the Bar” is about the arrival of death, and how we should treat it.
Tennyson has formed this poem to tell the readers how he wants his death to come, and how he wants the people around him to behave when it happens.
Let’s take a look at the poem first and then at the literal translation and the analysis and meaning.
Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
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.
Literal Translation of the Poem
A poem is filled with complex literary devices such as metaphors, alliterations, allusions, etc. All these elements make the poem interesting, but complex to understand. So we have decided to unfurl this complex knot in a quick way.
Before we go into the detailed analysis of the poem, here’s the literal translation of the poem in simple, easy-to-understand language so that people who are in a hurry can get their slice and get going.
As my time comes to an end
I feel the call of death clearly calling me
But I do not want any moaning or tears or sadness
When I pass on from this life to another.
But to me, I find death to be calming, quiet, and peaceful
It is too heavy and profound to make any noise
I feel that when I return to my maker
there shall be no sound or strain. Only peace
Only the twilight and the evening bell
followed by the coming of the darkness
No sadness for the death of me
When I embark on this journey
While I may be going to a place very far from the place I live
I hope to see the face of God, the one who gave me my fate
When I crossed the sandbar and moved toward the sea.
Analysis and Meaning of the Poem
Now that we are done with the literal translation, let’s put on our magnifying glasses and take a deeper, closer look at the poem and every little detail of it to find the brilliance in the writing of Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The poem is about the coming of death, and how the poet wants to meet death. He wants it to be peaceful, without any fuss or pain or clamor. He says that death is not the final moment of his life, but just a transition.
Let’s look at the analysis of each stanza to understand the poem and the poet’s intention even better.
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,
All the terms used here are used as metaphors. As the day comes to an end, Tennyson says that his life is also coming to an end.
He sees the sunset, the evening star (which denotes life after death), and a clear call for him. The clear call here means that he knows his time is about to come.
It is interesting as Tennyson wrote this poem just before his death.
He knows that death is coming for him and he wants there to be no moaning, crying, or melancholy for him. “When I put out to sea” indicates that death is not the end for him, but just a long, one-way journey.
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.
The second stanza is about the nature of death that he wishes to see. He says that the wave that will take him on the journey seems very quiet and calm. It is too full for sound or foam.
Death is such a profound journey that it does not make any sound. It comes and takes it away quietly.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
The third stanza describes how he wants the events on the “land” to be when he embarks on this journey on the sea. He says that after he has passed away, he wants no sadness or farewell.
All he wants is for everything to stay as regular as before. Sadness and moaning show that the person is gone, and there is nothing after death.
But that is not what Tennyson believes in. He wants that everything happens just as they happen today; twilight, evening bell, and then the dark.
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.
The final stanza explains why Tennyson wants his death to be this way. Here comes the philosophy of something beyond death and he wants to change the perception of death.
Tennyson says that while the place he is being taken by the flood is so far from the place where everyone lives, not just in place, but also in time, that people may assume that it is the end of life and the soul.
But that is not what the poet has in his mind. He says that he hopes to see the “Pilot” after he has crossed the bar and moved to the “new life.” So who or what is the “Pilot?”
“Pilot” here refers to God, the one who was deciding where the life of the poet will move. He was the prime mover and it is a brilliant metaphor to use to represent God.
Themes of the Poem
The impressive element of all the poems penned down by Alfred Lord Tennyson is his ability to use metaphor to convey complex themes and meaning and yet not at any moment the reader will feel exhausted.
His poems are very easy to understand and one can see the themes of the poem seeping through the stanzas and the lines. “Crossing the Bar” is about death, life after death, and the acceptance of it.
Tennyson says that death is not the end of life, but just a new phase of life. It is life beyond our lands. It is a life that exists in a faraway place where you get to meet your creator, your pilot.
The poem is also about the acceptance of death without any fuss or fear. When the time has come, the person should readily accept death.
Viewing death as a journey and not as a cessation of life is the message of the poem.
It is also worth noting the subtle way Tennyson incorporates imagery and elements that denotes death. Sunset, evening star, tide, twilight, evening bell, and darkness are all elements one can associate with the end of life.
Another message of the poem is there should not be any sadness or melancholy for someone who has passed away. It is merely a journey to another world to meet their creator. All of us are going to do it.
So what is the point of moaning and fussing about it? Let us accept it as a normal part of life and keep it quiet, peaceful, and calm.
There are a lot of literary devices in the poem. Let’s look at all of them:
Metaphor: The entire poem is a metaphor for death. But that is not all. Some of the metaphors used in the poems are:
Pilot to refer to God
“One Clear Call for Me” to denote the approaching time of death
Tide as death
Crossing the Bar as a metaphor for death
Alliteration: Some of the examples of alliteration in the poem include:
And one clear call for me!
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
The flood may bear me far.
Form: There is no defined structure in the poem as all the lines flow freely. The poem is made of four quatrains or four-line stanzas.
Rhyming Structure: The rhyming pattern of the poem “Crossing the Bar” is ABAB.
There is a great contradiction between the subject of the poem and its mood of it, which was the idea of the poet. While the poem is about death, about passing away, the mood is hopeful, happy, and peaceful.
The poet is not sad about meeting death, but in fact in peace and very happy to meet the creator and embark on a “journey.”
About the Poet
Alfred Lord Tennyson was a prominent English poet of the Victorian era, known for his works such as “In Memoriam A.H.H.”, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, and “Ulysses”. He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1850 and held the position until his death in 1892.
“Crossing the Bar” is one of Tennyson’s most famous poems, which he wrote in 1889, three years before his death.
The poem uses the metaphor of a sandbar to represent the boundary between life and death, and the speaker expresses his desire for a peaceful and calm crossing when the time comes.
The poem has been interpreted as a reflection on Tennyson’s own mortality and his acceptance of the inevitability of death.
It is a beautiful and poignant tribute to the mysteries of life and death, and continues to be admired by readers today.
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