The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” is a sixteen-line poem divided into four four-line stanzas of differing metrical structure. The predominantly iambic lines vary in length, ranging from four-syllable lines (dimeters) to ten-syllable, iambic pentameter lines. The stanzas follow a consistent abab rhyme pattern.

The opening line establishes the poem’s temporal setting, an unspecified ship that is ready to sail at sunset. As the sun descends, the light of the evening star, a beacon for mariners, rises. Line 9 again draws attention to the approaching evening but calls it “twilight” rather than “sunset.” Once the final rays of light disappear, darkness will cover the world. This element neatly divides the poem into two sections, each containing 2 stanzas.

On the literal level, Tennyson’s poem begins with the barest elements of setting. A ship is about to set sail on a long voyage at “Sunset and evening star.” After a formal announcement, the “one clear call,” the vessel will sail out of the harbor, across the sandbar at the harbor’s entrance, and into the sea. The anxious passenger, the poem’s persona, hopes for a gentle crossing out of the harbor, one without turbulence associated with “moaning of the bar.” Instead, he hopes for a tide that is “Too full for sound and foam” because such a gentle tide would be like the one “which drew [him] out the boundless deep” and into port. This...

(The entire section is 471 words.)