1 May 2017 Susannah

Poem of the Month, May 2017 – Crossing the Bar

Solent Outdoor Beach Sea Resort Isle Of Wight

Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson portrait by P. Krämer

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.

 

Tennyson wrote this wonderful poem in 1889 as a result of a boat trip, crossing the Solent from the mainland to the Isle of Wight. He had been unwell, and was 80 years old, so death was on his mind. He later said that the words of the poem “came in a moment”, and he instructed his son that the poem was to be placed last in any anthology of his works published from that time on.

In the poem he compares death with a ship crossing over a sandbar, using the bar as a metaphor for a human’s passing into the next world. The first line mentions sunset – the closing of the day, but also indicative of the closing of a life. There is an evening star to point the way, and the “clear call” of death, a sense that ending is imminent. The poet is nearly ready, and shows a sense of resignation, yet also anticipation as to what will be over that bar. He will not be “moaning’ when the time comes. Time progresses during the poem – we begin with sunset, then get twilight and the evening bell, and then the dark. The movement of the day is beautifully woven into the movement of the poet towards death, and the movement of the boat on the water.

The poem of course has a Christian meaning. Tennyson expects to go to God when he dies, or “my Pilot” as he calls him. God will ensure that he is carried smoothly and peacefully out of life. It will not be an ending, but rather part of a long journey, the “flood” of life that will carry him inexorably into the afterlife. The word ‘crossing’ also has religious connotations – crossing into the next life, but also making the sign of the cross. The religious meanings give the poem its certainty and its sense of peace.

Its four stanzas are written in free verse with an ABAB rhyming pattern. The differing lengths of lines evoke the movement of the tides washing in and out.

Listen to this gorgeous poem being read by Canadian actor Raymond Massey

You can also listen to the poem being sung

Share your thoughts on this poem by leaving a comment.

 

  Susannah Fullerton: HAPPY BIRTHDAY – Alfred, Lord Tennyson, born 6 August 1809
   The Best of Lord Alfred Tennyson by Lord Alfred Tennyson

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Featured image credit- Solent Outdoor Beach Sea Resort Isle Of Wight. Public Domain. http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Solent-Outdoor-Beach-Sea-Resort-Isle-Of-Wight-718755
Body image credit- Alfred Tennyson, portrait by P. Krämer. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6907381
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Comments (6)

  1. Ruth Williamson

    Another one of my personal favourites! I think L M Montgomery pays fond homage to it near the end of “Anne’s House of Dreams” when she describes the passing of Captain Jim, another sailor who believes he will find lasting peace in afterlife.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, Tennyson was one of Montgomery’s favourite poets and she quotes him often. I find it hard to read the death of Captain Jim without tears.

  2. clodagh Harrison

    Terrific. Here I am on The Isle of Wight and cross the Solent often. Being reminded of Tennyson’s exquisite poem makes me appreciate my grandmother the more as she would quote certain lines from it showing she was ready to face what lay ahead – she felt the usual sorrow many Irish mothers felt with their children scattered across the world.

    Approaching eighty, while still quite active, this poem will help me too accept my fate. Loved the choral version.

    I should organise a visit to Farringfield if I can. This year there’s much to do with Jane Austen in nearby Hampshire and I hope to engage with Hardy and Dorset soon.

    The Historic Houses Association Literary Trail sounds most interesting. What a feast. But without you to enhance our understanding.

    Have a great visit to literary Ireland.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, that’s a boat trip you must know well, Clodagh. And you are lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world. If you get to Farringford, can you send me a report on it. Last time I went the hotel seemed to have closed and only the restaurant was open. I would love to know what state it is in now.
      Wish you were coming to explore literary Ireland with me.

  3. Beverly Sledge

    I love this poem..In the ninth grade, at fredrick Douglas, middle School..San Antonio, Texas..Teacher, Mrs. Margaret Robinson, class we must learn and recite, this poem..each student..Now at 69 years old, and a Christian,working as an Hospice nurse..I understand, read my Bible..To comprehend the meaning of this poem..As an EASTERN STAR,I have read this poem, in the lost of many, deceased sister’s OF THE ORDER..My GOD..

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It is a wonderful poem, isn’t it, whether or not you are a believer. You must be especially be able to relate to it if you work as a hospice nurse.

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