Crossing the Bar - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- A Study Guide
The speaker heralds the setting of the sun and the rise of the
evening star, and hears that he is being called. He hopes that the ocean
will not make the mournful sound of waves beating against a sand bar
when he sets out to sea. Rather, he wishes for a tide that is so full
that it cannot contain sound or foam and therefore seems asleep when all
that has been carried from the boundless depths of the ocean returns
back out to the depths.
The speaker announces the close of the day and the
evening bell, which will be followed by darkness. He hopes that no one will
cry when he departs, because although he may be carried beyond the limits of
time and space as we know them, he retains the hope that he will look upon the
face of his "Pilot" when he has crossed the sand bar.
This poem consists of four quatrain stanzas rhyming ABAB. The first and third
lines of each stanza are always a couple of beats longer than the second and
fourth lines, although the line lengths vary among the stanzas.
Tennyson wrote "Crossing the Bar" in 1889, three years
before he died. The poem describes his placid and accepting attitude toward
death. Although he followed this work with subsequent poems, he requested that
"Crossing the Bar" appear as the final poem in all collections of
Tennyson uses the metaphor of a sand bar to describe the barrier between life
and death. A sandbar is a ridge of sand built up by currents along a shore. In
order to reach the shore, the waves must crash against the sandbar, creating a
sound that Tennyson describes as the "moaning of the bar." The bar
is one of several images of liminality in Tennyson's poetry: in
"Ulysses," the hero desires "to sail beyond the sunset";
in "Tithonus", the main character finds himself at the "quiet
limit of the world," and regrets that he has asked to "pass beyond
the goal of ordinance."
The other important image in the poem is one of "crossing,"
suggesting Christian connotations: "crossing" refers both to
"crossing over" into the next world, and to the act of
"crossing" oneself in the classic Catholic gesture of religious
faith and devotion. The religious significance of crossing was clearly
familiar to Tennyson, for in an earlier poem of his, the knights and lords of
Camelot "crossed themselves for fear" when they saw the Lady of
Shalott lying dead in her boat. The cross was also where Jesus died; now as
Tennyson himself dies, he evokes the image again. So, too, does he hope to
complement this metaphorical link with a spiritual one: he hopes that he will
"see [his] Pilot face to face."
The ABAB rhyme scheme of the poem echoes
the stanzas' thematic patterning: the first and third stanzas are linked to
one another as are the second and fourth. Both the first and third stanzas
begin with two symbols of the onset of night: "sunset and evening
star" and "twilight and evening bell." The second line of each
of these stanzas begins with "and," conjoining another item that
does not fit together as straightforwardly as the first two: "one clear
call for me" and "after that the dark!" Each of these lines is
followed by an exclamation point, as the poet expresses alarm at realizing
what death will entail. These stanzas then conclude with a wish that is stated
metaphorically in the first stanza: "may there be no moaning of the bar /
When I put out to sea"; and more literally in the third stanza: "And
may there be no sadness of farewell / When I embark." Yet the wish is the
same in both stanzas: the poet does not want his relatives and friends to cry
for him after he dies. Neither of these stanzas concludes with a period,
suggesting that each is intimately linked to the one that follows.
The second and fourth stanzas are linked
because they both begin with a qualifier: "but" in the second
stanza, and "for though" in the fourth. In addition, the second
lines of both stanzas connote excess, whether it be a tide "too full for
sound and foam" or the "far" distance that the poet will be
transported in death.