Crossing The Bar, Lord Alfred Tennyson – An Analysis


Crossing some sort of boundary or line?

Gut Reaction
Is this about confronting death?

What does it all mean?
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!

Is this symbolic of the end of life being near for our writer? Saying that there is just one inevitability to face them now?
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

Moaning of the bar. Is he hoping that when he finally dies that it is swift, there are no complications (thinking of the moaning of something, perhaps wood, under the weight of something heavy), or that no one will mourn, moaning out in despair?

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.

Again, this feels symbolic of a quick, painless death, like a wall of seawater gently carrying him ‘home’. It feels very much like a person has come to terms with their mortality.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!

This seems like the final hours of the writer’s life.
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

Again, he is hoping that those he leaves behind do not mourn too much at his passing.

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,

Who knows where we go when we die… far from the things we know and understand, certainly, but other than that we just don’t know.
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Is he hoping for a glimpse of his god when he dies, or a person from his life that was his ‘guidance’ – pilot – who has already died and he hopes to meet them again?

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Four quatrain stanzas.

Accepting and hopeful for an easy transition.

Suggested rhyme scheme

Similes and metaphors
Time and Space – the time on Earth and the life we know.
Pilot – either the person’s god, or a pivotal/influential person in their life that has already died.

Author’s relationship with their subject
The author is accepting of the subject of their death and talks about it in an almost removed tone.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Much of Tennyson’s work symbolises death in association with the sea (think Ulysses). The moaning of the bar is often interpreted as being a sandbar which forms the barrier between life and death, something that must be breached in order to pass over.
The crossingis seen as both crossing over ‘to the other side’ and also as Catholic symbolism.
This poem was written around three years before Tennyson’s death and yet he asked that this poem be the final one published following his death.

Signing off
This poem feels very much like a man who has come to terms with the end of his life following diagnosis and living through an illness. He hopes his death will be quick, painless, without ‘foam’ or complication, and that those he leaves behind will not be too mournful.
There is a sense of calm about the sea and the thought of drifting out to death on a calm, gentle sea rather than under other circumstances such as in an uncomfortable hospital bed hooked up to who knows what medicines and pain relief, all the while suffering while those around you suffer as well – well. Who wouldn’t choose the first option if there were no other way out?


Poetry Foundation

Spark Notes

When I read this I think of the song… Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist (I know…Tennyson was no atheist… it just… popped into my head!)


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