Alfred Lord Tennyson’s beautiful poem “Crossing the Bar” relates death to a sea voyage. It is interesting to know that Tennyson requested that this poem be at the end of all of his works of poetry. He so much believed in his being able to see the face of God when his great journey of life and death was over.
Death is a powerful subject and many older poets concentrate on it when they near death. Tennyson had an acceptance of death. Tennyson wrote this poem not long before his death.
The poem is written in four quatrains with the rhyme scheme of ABAB. The point of view of the poem is first person with the poet as the speaker, which is how the poet conveys his own thoughts on life and death.
There are two metaphors for death in the first stanza: “Sunset and evening star.” Both bring the darkness. The sun setting in the west has always symbolized the end of a person’s life. When the poet adds the clear call, he states that death is calling to him. The poem equates a sea voyage with the passing on of a person. The bar is a place at the mouth of a river or harbor where tides deposit sand. The waves and wind blow over the bar and sounds of moaning come from it. These sounds denote that there is not enough water to sail over the bar. Symbolically, the reference to the bar shows the life and death of the ship or boat that would try to go over it when the tide is low or hopefully high. The passing over from life to death is the crossing of the bar.
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 tide that is needed to move the boat across the bar has no foam or sounds that accompany it. It seems to come from unknown place which takes the boat toward home.
The tide that is needed will help the ship pass over and seems to come from a deep cavern far away. The boat will be taken out to sea toward home or heaven for the one who has passed away.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
The poet begins with two more references to the evening time and the symbolic night: twilight of a person’s life and the sounding of the death knell. He wants no one to be sad or melancholy about his passing. The word embark gives the impression that he is starting a journey. To Tennyson who was a Christian, this is a journey that he may look forward to making.
Life may bear a person far and wide in his life time. The tide will carry him on to see the face of God [the Pilot] who is the captain of all Christianity. This is Tennyson’s hope when he crosses the bar on his long trek to heaven.