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Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Yesterday's poem choice was "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time. Initially, I thought of following up with "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell or "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe, but they're from a similar time period, so I decided to select something else. And then, based on the carpe diem notion and its association with the movie Dead Poets Society, I nearly went with "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman. But I've already used a selection from Whitman. Then, I noticed the second stanza in Herrick's poem:

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
   The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
  And nearer he's to setting.

And the idea of the setting sun led me to today's choice, from Tennyson:

Crossing the Bar
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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.


*bourne: boundary or limit


Tennyson's done something interesting, form-wise here. These are cross-rhymed quatrains (4-line stanzas rhyming ABAB CDCD etc.), but there's no truly fixed metre here - more of a variety of long and short lines that echo the notion of waves or tides.

The entire poem is, pretty obviously, a metaphor for death, and for crossing over into an afterlife, and it reflects Tennyson's acceptance and welcoming of death. He also asks that nobody cry for him after his death. Some of the history of the poem might be of interest however. Tennyson wrote the poem in 1889, three years before his death. It is believed that "the bar" referenced in the poem was inspired by Salcombe Bar, a sandbar in just off the coast of South Devon, across which Tennyson once had a rough passage while aboard a boat owned by a historian named J.A. Froude. The moaning sound referenced in the poem is to the noise that the water made as it rolled over the sand bar. (The sand bar, as it turns out, can be quite dangerous, and has caused shipwrecks over history, including the loss of a lifeboat in the early 1900s, resulting in the deaths of 13 men.)

Shortly before Tennyson died in 1892, he told his son Hallam that he wanted "Crossing the Bar" to be the final poem in all collections of his works. And so it is.


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Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
katsie
Apr. 7th, 2009 05:21 am (UTC)
That is my favorite of all Tennyson's poems. Having spent a large part of my youth near the Diamond Shoals with their sandbars and treacherous reefs, and having always wanted to sail (I've never quite accepted that I was born too late to really experience true tall ship sailing life), it evoked the rhythms of the ocean's tides and both the danger and the peace that the ocean embodies.
kellyrfineman
Apr. 7th, 2009 12:37 pm (UTC)
I memorized the first stanza quite by accident when I was in high school, and I've loved the poem ever since - both for its rhyme scheme and unusual rhythm and for its feeling of acceptance.
p_sunshine
Apr. 7th, 2009 02:00 pm (UTC)
This is beautiful and frustrating at the same time. While it's a wonderful sentiment to want one's loved ones to feel acceptance at one's passing, I feel that it's still rather selfish to dictate their mourning.
Probably just me being tender right now.
I do love the last quatrain.
kellyrfineman
Apr. 7th, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC)
I think of it not so much as dictating to the mourners, but more as reassuring them that he holds no fear of death or what might come afterwards.

I understand your point, however. My mother-in-law has apparently been writing up her "requirements" for her own memorial service, which I find particularly annoying. The point of a memorial service is to comfort the bereaved, I think, not for the dead person to impose a bunch of requirements on them from beyond the grave.
p_sunshine
Apr. 7th, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
My sister in law had a similar situation. I sang a Hail Mary at my mom's funeral, and right afterwords, her mom came up and told us both all about how she wanted her funeral and what songs she wanted (me singing the Hail Mary was high on her list), which priest, which readings, etc. While it was flattering that she wanted me to sing for her, my sister in law was really irritated by her mom's list of requirements, especially since her mom is in very good health and we were still at the funeral!
On the other hand, my mom didn't have any requirements beyond a passing joke that she wanted to be cremated, so making the decisions there without any guidance from her was tough.
I guess there is no cut and dry.

kellyrfineman
Apr. 7th, 2009 07:57 pm (UTC)
I suspect you're right - damned if you do, damned if you don't probably sums it up.
liz_scanlon
Apr. 7th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
Kelly.
We read this at my Pop-Pop's memorial 2 summers ago.
He was a sailor by passion and had crossed the Atlantic more than once...
He didn't dictate that we read this, but I'll bet he was glad we did...
kellyrfineman
Apr. 7th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
I've adored this poem since high school, when I first read it (and quite unconsciously memorized the first stanza). I think it's the perfect sort of poem for a sailor.
(Deleted comment)
kellyrfineman
Apr. 8th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
His ocean scenes, and the sepia tones of so many of his paintings, suit the aesthetic of this poem, I think.
susanwrites
Apr. 7th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
I have been reading this out loud several times and continue to stumble through the structure. Still, I will persevere.
kellyrfineman
Apr. 8th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
It's best to just read it as it is, and not to try to make it feel like a regulated meter or rhyme, because it doesn't work that way.
susanwrites
Apr. 8th, 2009 06:44 am (UTC)
Oh well, another one that just doesn't work for me. :)
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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