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Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Crossing the Bar” is a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. The poem, written in 1889, is one of the last composed by the British Poet Laureate, who died in 1892. It is believed that Tennyson composed the work as an elegy, a reflective poem on death. He did instruct his son to make sure that the poem appeared at the end of any collections of his poems.

Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tennyson

Tennyson wrote the poem rather quickly, following a sea voyage to his home on the Isle of Wight during which he was quite ill. In the work, Tennyson uses an extended metaphor of a sea journey to describe death. Such lines and phrases as the following give the impression of the work being metaphorically reflective on death:

  • “when I put out to sea”
  • “the boundless deep”
  • “may there be no sadness of farewell/When I embark”

In terms of its form, the poem consists of four quatrain stanzas with an ABAB rhyme scheme, with each line’s length alternating between long and short. In matching the ABAB rhyme scheme, stanzas one and three and two and four are thematically connected as well. Stanzas one and three open with images of the coming of nightfall, and convey the idea of there not being sadness.

Stanzas two and four both open with qualifier: “but” or “for though,” and convey the idea of the eternity of death. The poem ends with Tennyson’s hope to meet “my Pilot” (God) “face to face” after he has crossed the “bar,” the metaphor of the sandbar separating life from death.

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