Why did Tennyson want "Crossing the Bar" at the end of his collections?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Crossing the Bar" is a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He wrote the poem during an illness and while at sea; he claimed that the words "came in a moment," and asked his son to place the poem at the end of each collection of his work (Wikipedia). The poem is often associated with death and dying, with the finality of age, and the poet's desire to move beyond "the bar" that separates life and death to meet "The Pilot" (God) at last. It is also a plea to his family not to mourn for him, because his life has been complete, and he feels that he has lived it to the fullest of his ability. This can be seen in the third stanza:

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
(Tennyson, "Crossing the Bar," bartleby.com)

The poem acts as a final work, a sort of epitaph. With the poem at the end of a collection, the reader receives the idea that the work of the poet has come to a specific conclusion, and that there is nothing more to see here. As a reflection on life and death, it falls naturally after all other poems which concern themselves with events, people, and ideas; once the collection (life) is over, there is little more to say. It is not, however, a poem of sadness and misery; the reader understands that the poet has come to his own acceptable ending, and the reader can now move on to other collections (lives) and feel joy that the poet has lived and died in the manner he most desired.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why is it significant that "Crossing the Bar" is placed in Tennyson's last collection even though he wrote poems after it?

I think that Tennyson understood the overall significance of the poem to request that it be included in his last collection and that it is the poem to conclude all of his collections of poetry.  Tennyson recognized the theme of death and dying within it, but also is reflective of how Tennyson saw consciousness as a form of travel.  Similar to the concluding idea to "Ulysses," where the idea of "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" is evident, Tennyson understood that this particular poem is representative of the idea that consciousness and being is defined by the voyage and how there is not anything static in this process.  Movement and fluidity is a part of the human predicament, and that this is something brought out in the poem.  Tennyson understood that there is an element of both finality and progression in the poem.  It is something that is fitting at the close of different forms of being, and his desire to include it in his final collection and at the end of his collections represents this.  Tennyson's ideas about being in the world and being outside of this world are clear in this poem and in its inclusion as part of a close to his work, Tennyson recognizes and affirms this sentiment in his poem.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on