Crossing the Bar Questions and Answers
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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How does Lord Tennyson see death as a homecoming in the poem "Crossing the Bar"?  

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Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote the very short and poignant poem "Crossing the Bar" in 1889, while on a sea journey soon after he had recovered from a serious illness. The poet sees death as a homecoming, an event as natural, sure, and peaceful as the flowing of a river into the ocean that is its home. On its way to the ocean, a river takes with it the sediment that creates a sandbar (also called a bar).

The poem is rich in metaphor drawn from a scene one might see from aboard a ship: the "flood" or raging river waters en route to their ocean home, the bar created by the river, and the vast ocean itself. Tennyson sees the river as a metaphor for his life's journey. Beyond the bar lies the infinite and mysterious ocean, the great unknown of death and the afterlife.

The Pilot who steers the ship is a metaphor for God, who has been at the helm all along all, but who has not always been noticed. The end of life is just another bigger, greater part a journey to be thought of not with fear but with serene acceptance. Like the river, we all cross the bar and go back home to the ocean.

Tennyson unknowingly foreshadowed his own death, which took place just three years after he wrote "Crossing the Bar."

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Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” has several allusions to death as a return rather than a departure. The poem obviously has its roots firmly planted in Western Christian ideology that also posits death as a homecoming rather than something mournful. Indeed, Tennyson encourages celebration when he finally crosses the bar. He does not want the event to be a mournful one:

“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,” (1259).

The most obvious allusion to Tennyson’s journey “home” comes in the second stanza, when he cleverly compares the cycle of his life to the cycle of the tides:

“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.” (1259).

This metaphor is especially potent because it reflects Christian beliefs concerning life and the afterlife. Indeed, people are granted life from the Christian God, are sent to earth, and then recede back into heaven after their lives conclude. Thus, the tide metaphor is incredibly apt to capture the beats of that belief system. Tennyson alludes to death as a homecoming throughout the poem, and incorporates elements of the Christian faith to reinforce this imagery.

I pulled my textual evidence from The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume E, 9th Edition.

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