Synopsis of Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson

About the Poet Alfred Lord Tenyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) was a Victorian-era British writer, novelist, and poet. He attained his basic education and then went to Trinity College Cambridge University. His major work includes In Memoriam, The Charge of the Light Brigade and Idylls of the King. Tennyson was appointed as a poet laureate in 1850 in succession to Wordsworth.
Tennyson's poetry brought a new sense of metrical variety, rich descriptive imagery and exquisite verbal melodies to literature. Not only did his writings reflect upon the Victorian Era, but they also reflected upon himself. His poetry is easily understood by all generations. The major themes of his poems are geological time and evolutionary history, histological/mythological past, personal past, friendship, social and political concerns, contemporary science vs. Christian beliefs.

Theme of the Poem Crossing the Bar

The poem 'Crossing the Bar' is perhaps the last and best poem written by Tennyson. The poem illustrates an accepting attitude towards death. The title 'Crossing the Bar' itself symbolizes the journey from life to death. The theme describes the poet's fearlessness towards death and his firm belief in God and the eternity of life.

Summary of the Poem Crossing the Bar

In the opening line of the poem, the speaker tells about the setting of the sun and the rise of the evening star. A call reaches his ears. He is about to set out to sea but he hopes that the sea will be calm and it won't make the mournful sound of waves beating against the sand bar. The sand bar is a ridge of sand built up by current along a shore. (Metaphorically a sand bar can be taken as a barrier between life and death).

The speaker wishes for a tide which does not have a sound or foam and it seems asleep. He also wishes that the huge wave will carry everything back to the boundless depth of the ocean.

In the concluding lines, the speaker announces that the day is at the end and there is the sound of the evening bell. After that, there will be darkness. The speaker hopes that at the time of his departure, no one will cry. He knows that he might be taken beyond the limits of time and space to see God (resembled as a pilot that guides man through life and death) with a peaceful mind.

Critical Analysis of the Poem Crossing the Bar

The poem 'Crossing the Bar' by Tennyson was written in 1889, three years before his death. The poem starts with the speaker hearing something calling for him from the sea. He hopes that there isn't any noise coming from the sand bars on the beach or the ocean when he sails off. As night falls, he wishes that there will not be any cries of farewell when he departs. Even though he will venture into the endless ocean, he hopes to see his pilot one last time before he sets off to sea.

The beginning of the stanza, the end of the day symbolizes the end of life. The call can be related to the call of death. "There be no moaning' means that the speaker wishes to die quietly and peacefully.

Tennyson uses the metaphor of a sand bar to describe the barrier between life and death. In stanza three, the twilight symbolizes the last moment of one's life and in stanza four, the poet hopes to see his 'Pilot'. The Pilot' symbolizes God and how he led him through his life. Tennyson also uses the word 'crossing as an image for both crossing over from earth to Heaven and also the traditional Catholic tradition of crossing oneself into faith or devotion. The cross is also where Jesus dies, so now as the speaker feels the shadow of death, he conjures the image of the cross again.

The poem contains four stanzas of four lines each, with a traditional abab rhyme scheme. The structure of the poem is clear and concise. It is written as an elegy, utilizing an extended metaphor of a sailor crossing the sandbar between the tidal area and the sea to represent a human being passing from life to exist beyond death. The symbol of this poem is the action of leaving the shore and floating along the sea. This symbolizes dying. It shows the journey that we take while we being to wither away.


moaning - sad, when a person is not in a mood to work;
bar - sandbank:
foam - waves;
boundless - unlimited;
twilight - the period of dim light just before it is completely dark;
embark - to go on a ship or an aircraft;
bourne - boundary or limit:
pilot - God who guides the path through life and death;
crost - cross. 
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