Crossing the Bar: Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Poem Review Essay
In Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Crossing the Bar,” he describes his placid attitude towards death. He wrote, “Crossing the Bar” in 1889, three years before his death while crossing the Solent. Days before his death, he asked his son to put his poem at the end of all his poetry editions (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Throughout the poem, Tennyson demonstrates his acceptance of death through an extended metaphor of “crossing the bar” as he transitions into death.
In “Crossing the Bar”, nautical metaphors, peaceful diction, and religious metaphor collectively convey the idea that faith in God will result in a fulfilling life and a peaceful death. Tennyson uses nautical metaphors to describe his death as a peaceful journey into the ocean. Tennyson realizes that he nears the end of his life. He recognizes the “Sunset and evening star / And one clear call for me! ” (1-2). As a sailor, Tennyson depends upon the sun and stars for navigation and time. Once the sun sets and the evening star appears, he knows his call to depart into the calm waters.
Tennyson uses the metaphor of, the sunset and evening star to compare his call to death. The daylight represents life, while the darkness represents death. The peaceful transition from daylight to night, or the sunset, depicts Tennyson’s peaceful transition from life to death. Tennyson compares the evening star as guidance to his final destination. The evening star guides sailors to their destination, similarly, the evening star guides Tennyson to a peaceful death. When Tennyson dies, he does not want anyone mourning his death. He requests for “… here [to] be no moaning of the bar, / When I put out to sea” (3-4). As a sailor, Tennyson desires a calm and quiet tide, so he can easily cross over a sandbar. He commences on a journey out to sea, to compare his departure into the afterlife. Tennyson compares the moaning sounds of the waves hitting the sandbar, to sounds of mourning that are typical after a death. He asks for no sorrowful sounds when he dies by his comparison of the sandbar and his death. Because the calm water does not crash into the sandbar, it does not make a moaning sound.
The peaceful tide resembles Tennyson’s peaceful death. Tennyson continues to describe his peaceful death using tranquil diction. Tennyson uses peaceful diction to denote a tranquil and natural death. Ready to embark on his journey into the sea, Tennyson desires a full tide. He wants “…a tide as moving seems asleep, / too full for sound and foam” (5-6). Tennyson wants a calm tide, that it produces no sound or foam. Although his final journey into death is near, which is represented by the moving tide, Tennyson’s contentedness with his life prepares him for a peaceful transition into death.
Tennyson’s word choice for “too full for sound and foam” signify his fulfillment with life and readiness for a peaceful death. His word choice of a “sleeping tide” demonstrates his serene impeding death. Because the diction represents a full calm tide, Tennyson’s death will be calm similar to the tide. As the night takes over, Tennyson calmly proclaims the end of the day. He acknowledges that he faces “Twilight and [the] evening bell, / And after that dark! ” (9). After twilight, the sound of the evening bell signals the beginning of night.
The darkness follows the day and parallels to the end of Tennyson’s life. Tennyson word choice of “twilight” gives the poem a sense of serenity because during twilight, humanity settles down and prepares to sleep. Tennyson’s word choice of “darkness” represent, death illustrating his eternal slumber. “Twilight” and “darkness” propel his idea that his life is coming to a peaceful end. Tennyson uses religious metaphors to indicate his return to heaven through his faith in God. Tennyson, a man of faith, believes that after death, the faithful expect to return to heaven.
He acknowledges that the tide “…which drew from out the boundless deep / Turns home again” (7-8). Tennyson describes the tide, which originates from the depths of the ocean, flows to the beaches’ shores, and will return back to the depths of the ocean. The cycle of the tide corresponds with the cycle of humanity. Similar to the tide, we all originate from heaven, go to Earth, die, then return back to heaven. The “boundless deep” represents heaven and “the return home” implies Tennyson’s return to heaven. Because of his faith, Tennyson will return to heaven, like the tide will return to the boundless deep.
When he returns to heaven, Tennyson “…hope[s] to see [his] Pilot face to face / When [he has] crossed the bar” (15-16). Tennyson hopes he will meet his the pilot of his ship, when he crosses over the sandbar. The pilot guides the ship towards its destination and Tennyson’s faith in God guides him to his destination of heaven. Like a sailor hopes to safely cross the sandbar, Tennyson hopes to see God in heaven after his death In creating this metaphor, Tennyson states the prevalence of one’s faith will be able to experience the pleasures of heaven and God.
In “Crossing the Bar,” Tennyson conveys the theme that one’s faith in God will result in a fulfilling life and peaceful death through his use of nautical metaphors, peaceful diction, and religious metaphor. Tennyson uses nautical metaphors to compare his death as a peaceful journey. The nautical images parallel his current phase of life because they describe a sailor ready to embark on his journey, which compares as his peaceful death.
Tennyson, throughout his poem uses peaceful diction to denote his tranquil death. He uses words such as “sleeping tide” and “twilight” to give the sense of the serenity of his death. Once Tennyson dies, he expects to return to heaven and become “face to face” with God. Through religious metaphors, Tennyson expresses the idea that faith returns him back to heaven and brings him into the presence of God. He uses ideas such as “the boundless deep” and “home” to represent heaven, and “Pilot” to represent God.