Honouring our poetic ancestors
Crossing the Bar
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892)
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 though 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.
I was brought up on this — my Dad loved to recite it — and I always think it was that other sea-loving poet, John Masefield, who wrote it. But no, it was the great Tennyson after all.
If my Dad understood the metaphor, that wasn't clear to me as a child. Perhaps he just loved the sounds of the words. I certainly loved hearing them roll off his tongue! I also have a memory of him reciting them a bit tipsy on one occasion. When he got to 'And may there be no moaning at (sic) the bar / When I put out to sea', my Mum said drily, 'Don't worry, there won't be.' I think she was talking about the kind of bar that men drank in!
It's clear to me now that Tennyson was thinking of his death, hoping it would be a smooth and easy transition and that those he left would not grieve too hard. It also suggests that he was a deeply religious man, whose greatest hope was to come home at last to God. It is by no means the only one of his poems with a distinctly Christian flavour. Which is odd, as the Wikipedia article (see link on his name, above) informs us that he tended towards agnosticism and Pantheism.
He was wonderful in lyrics such as this, a master of rhyme and metre. He was also famous for longer poems such as The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Lady of Shalott, and the long In Memoriam on the untimely death of his best friend. My favourite is Ulysses but it's a bit long to use here. His works can be found at PoemHunter, and there are numerous volumes at his Amazon page.
It's astonishing to learn that his first book of poetry was badly received! However, in later life he was made Poet Laureate, the longest serving British poet laureate ever, and was honoured with a peerage.