Crossing the Bar Questions and Answers
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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What themes and symbols are found in "Crossing the Bar"? 

One major theme addressed in "Crossing the Bar" is the theme of death, with the bar symbolizing the divide between the physical world and the afterlife. There is much symbolism in this poem, but one great example would be the symbol of God as a pilot for this journey called life. 

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The speaker provides a theme of death as a journey. He likens the venture as traveling on the sea, hoping to eventually meet the Pilot of his life when he crosses over "the bar." There is also a theme about living life fully, taking advantage of every opportunity so that there will be no "sadness of farewell" when his life is over.

The overall metaphor compares death to a journey into the sea.

The diction of the poem is fairly simple. There are no words of more than two syllables in the poem, contributing to the idea that the process of dying is universal, ultimately understood by everyone. The words also rely on a great deal of alliteration and assonance, which echo the mournful sounds of a boat on the sea. Consider the whispers in this line:

But such a tide as moving seems asleep

Then the hollow echoes of this line:

Too full for sound and foam

These are some powerful symbols in the poem:

  • The Pilot: symbolizes God, the one who has been guiding his ship all along but who is unseen until death.
  • Sunset: symbolizes the dying process; sunset is a beautiful transition that ends the light of daytime just before the birth of night.
  • Home: symbolizes eternity, which is where his ship is headedand where he originated from.
  • The bar: symbolizes the transition between life and death, just as a sandbar is a barrier between land and the sea.

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