Crossing The Bar

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Crossing The Bar

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

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,

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.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.


This poem is sixteen lines, divided into four stanzas (quatrains), each with an ABAB rhyme scheme. There is not set meter from line to line. This contributes to the rhythm of the work (and in my opinion, creates a verbal sense of rocking that one might feel on the ocean.) The visual form of the poem also creates this effect.

We will explore the subject matter in more depth below, but the major themes of the poem are death, time (in particular “time of day”,) and the sea.

Stanza 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,

Line one lets us know the time of day and “evening star” is a reference to Venus. The exact meaning of the second line is initially unclear, however, after reading lines three and four we should assume that the “clear call” is a call to the afterlife.

In line three, when the Speaker refers to “moaning of the bar,” 1) bar literally refers to a sand bar, but also 2) this expresses a wish for there to be no sadness upon his passing. Further, we can see that when the Speaker refers to putting out to sea, the term is a euphemism for dying.

Stanza Two:

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.

This stanza again uses the sea symbolically to describe death. The tide “as moving asleep” indicates something slow and tranquil. This reference to the peacefulness of the sea indicates a peaceful death – perhaps in the Speaker’s sleep.

Lines seven and eight are difficult to parse, however, I believe that the poet is describing a life which began in the deep (in the divine realm) returns to that realm. The implication here is that the moment of death itself – if not the circumstances surround it – is always tranquil.

Stanza Three:

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

The Speaker refers us again to the time of day – this time indicating twilight and evening. As with the first line of the poem, we are given a literal visual image as a metaphor for the end of a human life (with “the dark” mentioned in line ten representing the end of life.)

As with the first stanza, the Speaker again indicates that it is his wish that his passing not be mourned. Line twelve tells us that death is not the end. He describes his death in a manner that sounds like setting off on a voyage across the sea.

Stanza Four:

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

This stanza describes the aforementioned journey.

The Speaker describes leaving the physical realm of Time and Place (two themes which are prevalent in the first three stanzas) and being carried by “the flood.” The flood seems to refer to the endless abyss of eternity. In line fifteen, the reference to the Pilot is a reference to God. By referring to God as Pilot, the Speaker credits Him with being the One who directed his journey in life. By continuing the metaphor of the flood, into the afterlife, the Speaker indicates that the journey continues in the afterlife as well. Line sixteen returns the work to its theme and its title. “Cross the bar” is a reference to dying.

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