Crossing the Bar

Critical analysis of  the poem Crossing The Bar 

Table of Content

Background Of Crossing The Bar By Alfred Lord Tennyson 

Crossing The Bar Poem Settings

Crossing The Bar Poem Subject Matter/Summary

Analysis of the poem crossing the bar

Crossing The Bar Themes

Crossing The Bar Figures Of Speech /Poetic Devices

About the Poet


Crossing the Bar

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 cross’d the bar.

Background Of Crossing The Bar By Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was the Poet Laureate of Britain and Ireland for some decades and “Crossing the one of the poems he treasured most. He ensured that this poem was listed last in all his poetry volumes while alive. He also left instructions that in any collection of his poems after his death this particular poem should always be listed last. There must have been a reason for this but none was given by the Poet Laureate himself. However, it is possible to guess that this placement is connected with the significance of this position being the last one. Accordingly, it speaks of the wish of the poet to have his readers see the poem as his last creative effort and, by implication, a symbol of his final action a meditation and preparedness to embrace death whenever it comes before his transition to etermity. An account has it that Tennyson, while on a short voyage across the Solent, a body of water that separates mainland England from The Isle of Wight, got very sick. He later recovered, but had got jolted by the possibility of death. Already at an advanced age, the experience was sufficient to inspire a meditation on death. “Crossing the Bar” was written when Tennyson was eighty years old, three years before his death. John Donne’s metaphysical poem, “Death Be Not Proud” is one of the poems that demystify the power of death: Alfred Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” is another. In another of Tennyson’s poems titled “All Things will Die the poetic persona states thus: “The streams will cease to flow/The wind ,will cease to blow/The clouds will cease to fleet The heart will cease to beat/For all things must die/All must die”. Indeed, all things must live and die, Death is a phenomenon that is common to the rich And the poor, and to the wise and the simple and Tennyson emphasized this point in “Crossing the Bar and other poems “Ulysses” and “Tithonus” are two other poems by that are preoccupied with death, albeit, the tone of both is not as optimistic as that of crossing the Bar Death is a universal fact of existence. The poem relates the fact that death is inevitable and it must be faced with some courage

Crossing The Bar Poem Settings

The physical setting of the poem is clearly a neighbourhood that is not far from a habour or the sea The temporal setting of the poem is the evening hours or dusk, when the sun is receding, an appropriate period of the day to talk about a sober and somber subject such as death. Evening is the time when most people are expected to retire back home after a hard day’s job and probably reflect on the day’s exploits. This time will obviously provide an appropriate mood to reflect on the subject matter of the poem. There are also speculations that Tennyson composed the poem while on a sea voyage. The different nature imagery in the poem lends credence to this speculation. Moreover, sea travel was the most common form of transportation in Victorian England. during which time the poet composed the poem. The temporal setting of the poem is Victorian England.

Crossing The Bar Poem Subject Matter/Summary

The poem is a meditation on death. It begins with a reflection ofthe poetic-persona on what he deseriles as “one clear call for me!” (l. 2) on a certain evening when he realizes that it is time for him the sea. He hopes that the sea will have become calm after her usual turbulent movement
He further expresses the hope that when twilight eventually turns into darkness and he consequently embarks on his journey, his people will not be sad over his departure. Finally, he notes that though the journey may take him to a far and distant location, he believes it would be profitable because it will afford him the opportunity to meet his Pilot, Metaphorically speaking, the journey is actually death. Therefore, “Crossing the Bar” relates the poetic persona’s preoccupation with the coming of death, an inevitable phenomenon. Instead of the usual fright and anxiety that many display at the approach of death, the poetic persona faces death calmly. The tone of the poem depicts neither fear nor distress. At the liten! level, the “bar” in this context is a nautical term for a ridge of sand formed at the shore, by moving tides At the metaphorical level, the “bar” refers to crossing the threshold from mortality into another realm of experience, possibly immortality.

Analysis of the poem crossing the bar

Analysis Of Lines 1-4 (Stanza1) Of The Poem Crossing The Bar

This stanza begins by drawing attention to the temporal setting of the poem and the poetic persona’s moment of awareness. He becomes aware of the inevitable journey ahead of him following “one clear call” (1 2). The call comes on a certain evening while the persona beholds a star in the gathering darkness in the sky. The “Sunset and evening star” act as a reminder for the speaker that it is time for the journey. Resolved on heeding the call and embarking on the journey, he wishes for a clement weather or peaceful passage. Thus, this first stanza introduces the setting of the poem. It relates fact that the end of a period is at hand. The words “sunset” and “evening star” denote a drawing close, and in this case, the poetic persona realizes that his life is gradually drawing to a
close as he nears the end of his days on earth. The second line asserts that the poetic persona has been summoned he has received a call to which he must give heed. The poetic persona tells that the call is a clear one: is an unmistakable call that must be promptly answered. The exclamation mark at the end of line 2 emphasizes the importance of the call, Lines 3-4 present the wishes of the persona. He wishes that there would be no moaning of the bar, when he goes on a sea voyage, as he proceeds to answer the call

Analysis Of Lines 5-8 (Stanza 2) Of The Poem Crossing The Bar

This stanza continues and re-emphasizes the poetic persona’s wish for a clement weather in the course of his impeding sea voyage. He looks forward to a tide that moves as if it is asleep. Usually, turbulence in the movement of the sea occurs when sea creatures are hyperactive or other elements like the wind force them out of their position in the water. Realizing this, the persona wishes for a tide which comes after such creatures are returned to the “boundless deep” (1. 3). The first stanza already relates that the persona is ready to set forth, in order to heed the call. The second stanza presents the persona’s wisb for a favourable condition for the voyage. Seafarers usually long for a full tide that would make the the sandbar easy and uneventful. When such a full tide sweeps the ship across the there would be “no moaning of the bar” (1 3). The last line denotes the destination of the moving ship. The poetic persona affirms that the voyage is a homeward one, only that this home extraterrestrial nature,

Analysis Of Lines 9-12 (Stanza 3) Of The Poem Crossing The Bar

These lines, beginning with Twilight and evening bell” (I, 9), draw attention to the time of the poetic persona’s meditation. After twilight, naturally darkness falls Apparently, the darkness is equated with persona’s departure since darkness will render him invisible. He hopes that his departure will not use any kind of sadness or wailing from his loved ones. This 9th line, “twilight and evening bell’ reiterates the imagery of a closing, an ending. Here, the poetic persona contemplates what happens after a voyage o the land of the unknown. He relates that after the transition from life to death, there would be “the dark” 10), which symbolizes all that is unknown about the next life, Lines 11-12 state the persona’s wish for an uneventful death. He wishes that there would be no sadness and sorrow when He finally departs this life. The word “embark” (l. 12) depicts that the persona is getting off from this present life and entering into another realm, another phase of experience. These lines highlight the fact that death is a transition from one realm of living to another. The persona notes that the end of this life is the beginning of another one

Analysis Of Lines 13-16 (Stanza 4) Of The Poem Crossing The Bar

Here, it is noted that the poetic persona’s journey is such that time and space cannot limit. However, it is still worthwhile because it will afford him the chance to “see my Pilot face to face (1. 15). The pilot in this context refers to God, whom Tennysson apparently acknowledges as the ultimate Guide. In this last the poetic persona contemplates his destination and what he would do and see there. He realizes that the transition might bear him into a place that is far and unknown and one that he is not familiar with but he hopes to see his Pilot in this In this death is figuratively captured as the flood” (1,13) that translates a person from one phase of existence to another. The last line, line He
“when I have crossed the bar”, again relates the certainty of the poetic persona approaching death.
faces this phase of his life with courage, hope and equanimity.

Crossing The Bar Themes

1. The theme of Death in Crossing The Bar

Literally, the poem is about someone intent or beckoned to undertake a journey on the sea. Figuratively however it is about someone realizing the approach of his death. The “Sunset” and “evening” referred poem actually mean that period of life when man’s instinct tells him that the end of his existence on the earth is imminent. Although this usually happens at old age, it can also happen before such a time. The poetic persona presents an attitude which does not a typical fear of death attitude which many usually have. He looks forward to death, a journey of He, however, expresses a desire for a peaceful death when he notes: “And may there be no moaning of the bar …/But such a tide as moving seems asleep” (ll. 3 and 5) The sadness and wailing which usually.attend people’s death are also detested by the poet. He hopes no such conducts would attend his death In the poem, death is not conceived as the end of life or the end of everything. It is seen as a journey and a transition from one plane of existence to another. This is
perhaps why the poet does not want his death attended by sadness. The fact that life continues after death is evidenced in the poet’s hope that he will see his “Pilot face to face” (l.16) after “crossing the bar”. As universally believed and accepted. death is presented as inevitable. It is a sure thing in the life of every creature. This is underscored by the poet’s use of the adverbial “when” each time he talks about death. It can therefore be asserted that Crossing the Bar” is a also a poem about the transience of death. The poem presents a poetic persona who sees his death approaching and faces it with courage and hope. The poem attests to the fact that this life as we know is not eternal. The poem relates that all things would soon fade and pass away. The poem underscores the fact that man is a mortal being: hence, he would face death sooner or late Just as there is “one clear call” for the poetic persona, everyman
s clear call would eventually come. The poetic persona speaks with certainty in regards to his death and his translation into another realm of existence

2. The theme of Hope in Crossing The Bar

Hope is an important theme of the poem and it is expressed in each of the four stanzas making up the poem. In the first stanza, this theme is noticed where the poet recognizes his impending death but
hopes that when it eventually comes, it would not be attended by any form of agitation or pain. This hopeful desire is re-inscribed in the second stanza where the poet likens the kind of circumstance of his desired death to moving seems asleep” (I, 5.), that is, a relatively peaceful one. The note of optimism which also comes across as desire in the poem is also seen in the expression, “And there may be no sadness of farewell/When embark” (ll. 11-12). The most expressive and emphatic hope is found in the last two lines of the poem where the persona says he hopes to see his “Pilot face-to-face after crossing the bar. With this last expression, we have a hopeful view of death presented in the poem Death is made to appear attractive, rather than frightening. The poem shows the courage exhibited by the poetic persona in the face of death. He accepts the impending call with tranquility. He is neither agitated nor afraid. Despite the fact that the poetic persona perceives that the end of his pilgrimage on earth is at hand, he is not frightful, rather, he looks forward to meeting his Pilot and seeing the One who
steered the course of his life, face to face. The poetic persona “preaches” a calm acceptance of death and dying since they are inevitable components of this life

3. The Theme of Grief free farewell in Crossing The Bar

the poetic personae has it emphasized in the poem that no one should feel bad, cry or mourn when he dies. This is because he is going to see his creator in a better place

4. The theme of Courage in the face of death in Crossing The Bar

in the poem, one is encouraged to embrace the phenomenon of death since it is inevitable and will always come to us.

5. The theme of Time in Crossing The Bar

one of the prominent themes in the poem is the concept of time. The reader is meant to understand that there is time for everything and this time takes permission from no one to occur, and as such, waits for no
one. The time to be born and time to die. Then, it tells us not to bother about the time of death but to embrace it. It would also preach that when any awful event of life occurs, one should embrace it so as to be able to understand and proffer a lasting solution to it.

Crossing The Bar Poem Structure

The poem comprises sixteen lines, which are divided into four stanzas. The first and the third quatrains are linked thematically and have a few devices in common. Both begin with references to time, which are actually figurative. Both also comment on the poetic persona’s wishes, The structures of the lines in each of the quatrains are also parallel. In the first line of stanza one and first line of stanza three, the lexical and grammatical items belong to the same classes, Line 2 in each of the stanzas is marked by A exclamation, Stanzas 2 and 4 also preserve a link as each begins with a qualifier.
The lines of the poem are arranged in alternate rhyme scheme, viz: abab cdod efef gaga. The length of the lines varies; while Avmost consist of six syllables, lines 3, 5, 7. 13 and 15 consists of ten syllables. The varied length of lines aids the poet in painting the tides and waves of the sea in the reader’s mind. Additionally, there is the replication of the structure in stanzas l and 2 while those in stanzas 3 and 4 for emphasis. The rhyme scheme and the rhythm make it lyrical, no wonder it has been set to music and it appears in many churches’ hymnals.

Crossing The Bar Figures Of Speech /Poetic Devices

Below are the figurative language in crossing the bar.


This simply means.opposite of what is meant. The use of this technique is not obvious in the poem. However it can be fished out easily with a close attention. In reality, death is not something to cheer about since it means that someone, probably someone dear to heart, is gone and gone forever. But the poem encourages the reader to accept the event of death with a good heart, whether you are the deceased or a relation. Hence, it is ironical as the reader expects that death will be condemned, rather, it is condoned.


This is when something harsh and unpleasant is said or expressed in a mild way. The notion of death which is known to be unpleasant is set in the poem as something simple and normal. Mild words and expressions like, “one clear call, I embark and crost the bar” are.used in the poem to refer to death.


The entire poem is one long metaphor that offers a meditation on the inevitability of death. Ordinarily the poem reads as a piece on a proposed sea voyage. A close reading however reveals that the journey in question is actually one to the land of the dead. Besides presenting the entire poem as a metaphor, specific words, phrases and ideas in the poem are used metaphorically. From the very first line where the poet talks about “Sunset and evening star”, metaphor is employed. The idea of sunset and evening refers to old age when it steadily becomes certain that existence in the earthly realm is coming to an end. The word “Twilight” in line 9 also has the same metaphorical meaning. The idea of evening bell’ in the same line is also suggestive of the fact that the time is up. In the evening or at twilight people naturally stop work and return home. After the “evening bell” comes The dark” is also another metaphor, meaning death. Further examples of metaphor in the poem can be seen in the expressions “moaning of the bar” (l. 3), “sadness of farewell” (1. 11) “boume of Time and Place”
(l 13) “crossed the bar” (I. 16), “my Pilot (l. 15). While the first two expressions refer to the conventional ery grief and lament that attend the death of people, the other two refer to death and God respectively The idea of flood” carrying the poetic persona far away is also metaphorical of death. The journey to be embark upon by the poetic persona is also metaphorical because it refers to death


Closely linked to metaphor is the use of symbolism in the poem. Some of the instances of metaphorical
the poem are also symbolically relevant. Such temporal references by words like “sunset”, “evening” and “twilight” are symbolic of both the poetic-persona’s old age as well as imminent death. The “dark” referred to in line 10 is clearly symbolic of death. The “bar” that the persona looks forward to crossing is symbolic of what divides life and death. Traditional beliefs have it that a man’s life consists of three seasons
morning, afternoon and evening or night. Images of sunset and twilight
clearly depict that the end of the persona’s days are at hand. Phrases
such as “no moaning of the bar”(I
3), “full of sound and foam” (l. 6) and “evening bell” 9) invite the reader to participate in the actions of the poem by listening to and also imagining the poetic persona’s experiences. Words such as “tide
and “foam produce images that enable the reader to share in the poetic persona’s feelings. Nautical
mages also abound in the poem. Such words as “deep”, “flood’
sea” and “tide” all serve to create a
vivid background and setting for the poem.


The use of imagery in the poem occurs in two broad ways, which are visual and audio. The visual form
can be further classified into maritime and temporal image
The poet makes use of several sea and water related registers. These words are bar, tide, flood, boundless
deep, sea, foam and embark. The words, in combination, easily evoke the idea or picture of a harbour and an impending voyage. More importantly, they draw attention to the physical setting of the poem. The use of time-related words such as evening”, “sunset” and “twilight” also suggests the temporal setting of the poem. At the literal level, it suggests that the poetic persona’s meditation as seen in the poem takes place in the evening hours. At the figurative level, it points to a period or stage of the poet’s life, specifically in terms of age. Audio imagery is equally prevalent in the poem. From words such as “moaning”, “sound and foam”, “evening bell” to “call for me” and “sadness of farewell”, the reader’s sense of hearing is mentally activated bell” and tends to perceive these sound related actions. For instance, “moaning” engenders a perception of painful sound while “evening bell” evokes the ominous sound, which signals the death of a person in a Christian community.


There are some instances of personification in the poem, In line 3, the poetic persona talks about “moaning of the bar”. The bar, which refers to the sandbar that is usually mounted at sea shore to prevent sea waves from overflowing its banks, certainly does not moan, just as tides lack the attribute of sleeping. In lines 5 and 12, these statements, “But such a tide as moving seems asleep” and “The flood may bear me far” respectively show the use of personification by the poet. The tide and the flood are personified to further deepen the comparison of the vast sea through which the l protagonist must travel to his destination in the world of the unknown. The expressions are particularly significant for the function in the overall conception of the entire poem as a metaphorical piece.


As noted in the discussion of the structure of the poem, the poet makes use of parallel structure syntactically, semantically and, to a large extent, mechanically between each of the lines in stanza land the corresponding lines in stanza 3. This alternation of parallel structure in terms of stanzaic grouping also finds a parallel in the alternate rhyme scheme of the poem


In lines 2 and 6 of the poem, we have the sounds /kki and /t/ alliterate respectively. Line 2 reads “An one clear call for me” while Line 6 reads “Too full for sound and foam”. The distinctness engendered by the prominence of pitch that results from a repeat of/kl in line 2 underscores the beckoning significance of the “Sunset and evening star” in the previous line. The sound /f in the second example emphasizes the idea of fullness implied in the expression. The repetition of these sounds also enhances the lyrical quality of the poem.


The poet employs altermate rhyme in his verse. The rhyme scheme for the sixteen-line poem is abab odod efolgaga. As usual with rhyme, this sound device enhances the lyrical quality of the poem.


The poet employs allegory a device through which one says something that could mean what it means and something else. This is to say that “Crossing the bar” is open to both literal and metaphorical readings. At the literal level, the poem presents a persona who is ready to set sail for sea. The poetic persona prepares to heed the call of duty and take on a sea voyage. He hopes and prays that the tides would be favourable so he could have an uneventful sail. At the metaphorical level of analysis, the poetic persona has senses that his days on earth are drawing to a close and he is getting prepared for the jourmey that would translate him from this life into the next. The poem relate the fact that there is a
call sent especially to the persona and the persona heeds all the call without fear or displeasure. The poem also relates the fact that all must one day depart from the present world, for an unknown one. The poetic persona hopes to meet his Maker and Pilot, face to face after he must have crossed the bar- the barrier between life and death, and between mortality and immortality,

About the Poet

One of the most popular and well-loved British poets, Alfred, Lord Tennyson lived between 1809 and 1892. He belonged to the Victorian era of English literature. He was the Poet Laureate of Britain and Ireland from 1850 until his death in 1892, making him the longest serving English Poet Laureate to date. He wrote many poetry volumes, among which are Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (830), The Princess the Light Brigade (854).

crossing the bar literary analysis

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