Crossing the Bar | Farringford

Crossing the Bar

‘Crossing the Bar’ is one of Tennyson’s most famous poems. It is often read at funerals and memorial services and I think it has provided comfort to many readers because of its solemn but reassuring tone. Though the speaker is describing his own death, he makes it clear that he does not fear it and he does not want those he leaves behind to mourn his passing:

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.

The sunset is the close of day and the end of his life, while crossing the bar as he puts out to sea is leaving this world for the next. These transitions are presented as natural; he, like the tide, is simply returning home. He continues:

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness or 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.

The speaker makes clear he knows his time is coming and entreats those he leaves behind not to mourn his passing. The closing couplet has often irritated readers. If the poem were describing a literal sea voyage, the Pilot would guide the craft over the bar and then return to land, but Tennyson’s speaker hopes to see his Pilot after he crosses the bar. The subject of the poem necessitates this reversal. The Pilot is, as Tennyson explained to his son Hallam, ‘That Divine and Unseen Who is always guiding us’ (Oxford edition, p. 614).

According to the notes in the Oxford edition of his major works, Tennyson wrote the poem in October 1889 while sailing across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. He told Hallam it came to him in an instant.

I like to think the fact that he was returning to the home he loved, Farringford, contributed to his peaceful state of mind. Reportedly, shortly before he died Tennyson asked Hallam to ensure that editions of his poems always ended with this one. Most editors have continued to honour that request.

Use the comments box below to tell me what this poem has meant in your life.

Recent Posts

Speculation, Business and Risk in Gaskell, Tennyson and Dickens

Financial risk overshadows the writing of Victorian England, and in particular three of its most famous writers: Elizabeth Gaskell, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens. …

Read More
Speculation, Business and Risk in Gaskell, Tennyson and Dickens Posted: 20 Nov 2019

Radiohead

Thom Yorke of Radiohead is known for his erudite lyrics, many of which contain poetic references from Robert Frost, William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson…

Read More
RadioheadPosted: 21 Oct 2019

National Poetry Day Theme 'Truth'

Of all Tennyson’s poetry, ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’ is the poem that most explicitly deals with this year’s National Poetry Day theme ‘Truth’.…

Read More
National Poetry Day Theme 'Truth'Posted: 03 Oct 2019

Edward Lear and Tennyson

Tennyson and Edward Lear were both good friends and frequently exchanged letters and verse, with Lear even illustrating an edition of Tennyson’s poetry.…

Read More
Edward Lear and TennysonPosted: 20 Sep 2019
© 2019 Farringford