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Friday, 29 April 2016

Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Literary Analysis (Summary)

Crossing the Bar is a metaphysical poem that meditates on the inevitability of death and why it should be accepted in fate. The poet talks about the phenomenon of death using the symbolism of a sea voyage. He opines that death is not an end but a transition one must fully prepare for. Crossing the bar is an euphemism that implies crossing the complex and rigorous phase of life to death, which signifies peace and eternal rest.

The poet begins by reminiscing about nature, “sunset and evening star.” Then, he hears a “clear call”. This particular call is to the great beyond which he is ready to face squarely. Hence, death is seen as a natural phenomenon. Nevertheless, the poet remarks that he should not be moaned when death calls. Apparently, the poet is against the lamentation and sadness that attend the death of someone. When someone dies, that signals an end to his/her life. To the poet persona, this is not so. Man is a mortal being, but his death is not an end but a transformation to immortality.

In the second stanza, the poet desires a smooth journey that would appear like a sound sleep, a low tide that is not “full for sound and foam” and would ensure a smooth journey home. The “twilight” in the third stanza suggests the end of one’s life. “Twilight and evening star”, “sunset and evening star” reveal the setting of the poem. It is the evening time when light is moving towards darkness. This is a symbolic time for the latter days of one’s existence when one is set to bid the world farewell.  The poet reiterates that people must not lament over his demise because death is not the end of the road.

Although the destination of his eternal voyage is not confined by time and place, he longs to see his “pilot face to face”. The pilot refers to God, the one who pilots the affairs of men. He believes God is the ultimate pilot that steers and guides human fate.

The poet’s attitude to death is that of total submission which does not demand a dirge. To him, life is a timeless journey. All he wishes for is a hitch-free journey into another realm of existence in order to meet his “pilot’.


The inevitability of death
God directs the affairs of men
Life is a journey
Peaceful exit
The futility of life 

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