The enduring popularity of this short, meditative lyric lies in its ability to appeal to many people on many levels, despite attempts to limit it to one interpretation. The poem’s themes of death and dying have made it a popular selection for memorial services over the years, including Tennyson’s own. The poem, however, has significance for all readers. Daily life, a journey in itself, requires individuals to travel regularly from the safety of home, across a threshold, and into the unknown. Like the world of Tennyson’s traveler, the world beyond the safe region is dark and mysterious, yet at day’s end, people return home.
In this way, “Crossing the Bar” draws parallels between familiar and repeated patterns of ordinary, daily routine with nature’s daily cycles, such as night and day and the flow and ebb of the tide. Similarly, Tennyson includes the “evening star” and the Pilot as reminders of sources that guide individuals. These elements eloquently diminish the horror of death by drawing attention to the fact that the journey into death is merely part of a cycle: The going out is also a return home to “the boundless deep,” from which this traveler, like all people, came.
The themes of sea and death recur frequently in Tennyson’s life and work. As a child, Tennyson first saw the sea on a family vacation at Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast, a place he revisited often for comfort and solitude when an adult. One...
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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...
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