Crossing the Bar
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"Crossing the Bar" is an 1889 poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson that is traditionally the last poem in collections of his work. It is thought that Tennyson wrote it in elegy, as the poem has a tone of finality about it. The narrator uses an extended metaphor to compare death to crossing the "sandbar" between the tide or river of life, with its outgoing "flood," and the ocean that lies beyond death, the "boundless deep," to which we return.
Tennyson wrote the poem after a serious illness while at sea, crossing the Solent from Aldworth to Farringford on the Isle of Wight. It has also been suggested he wrote it while on a yacht anchored in Salcombe. The words, he said, "came in a moment" Shortly before he died, Tennyson told his son Hallam to "put 'Crossing the Bar' at the end of all editions of my poems".
The poem contains four stanzas that generally alternate between long and short lines. Tennyson employs a traditional ABAB rhyme scheme. Scholars have noted that the form of the poem follows the content: the wavelike quality of the long-then-short lines parallels the narrative thread of the poem.
The extended metaphor of "crossing of bar" represents traveling serenely and securely from life through death. The Pilot is a metaphor for God, whom the speaker hopes to meet face to face. Tennyson explained, "The Pilot has been on board all the while, but in the dark I have not seen him…[He is] that Divine and Unseen Who is always guiding us."
The words have been set to music by Sir Hubert Parry.
- Hill, Robert W., Jr., ed. (1971). Tennyson's poetry; authoritative texts, juvenilia and early responses, criticism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-09953-9.