Crossing the Bar
"Crossing the Bar" is an 1889 poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It is considered that Tennyson wrote it in elegy; the narrator uses an extended metaphor to compare death with crossing the "sandbar" between river of life, with its outgoing "flood", and the ocean that lies beyond [death], the "boundless deep", to which we return.
Tennyson is believed to have written the poem (after suffering a serious illness) while on the sea, crossing the Solent from Aldworth to Farringford on the Isle of Wight. Separately, it has been suggested he may have written it 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 the bar" represents travelling 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, by Sir Joseph Barnby Geoffrey Shaw, by Dr. George Hewson, organist at St Patrick's Cathedral Dublin, and by John Philip Sousa, popularly known as the USA's "March King".
In 2014, Ian Assersohn wrote a new setting of the words for male voices. Assersohn's piece "Crossing the Bar" won the Composers' Competition at the Cornwall International Male Voice Choir Festival, from a field of 40 entries. Assersohn is the Musical Director of Epsom Male Voice Choir, and the choir sang the world première of "Crossing the Bar" in Truro Cathedral at the Festival Opening International Gala Concert on Thursday 30 April 2015.
A folk music inspired setting for the poem with a refrain was created by Rani Arbo, an American bluegrass musician. The music was written at the time her husband's grandmother was passing away. Peter Amidon has used her melody to create a choral setting.
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 crost the bar.
- 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.
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- "Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson : The Poetry Foundation". www.poetryfoundation.org. Retrieved 21 February 2016.