ISC Class 12 Literature -Crosing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Crossing the Bar”

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 crossed the bar.

About the poet .. Alfred Tennyson (1809 – 1892) is a favourite of English speakers, debaters, and essay writers. His lines have such timeless impact that people cite them to bolster their arguments while trying to prove a point. His readers seem to concur with his line of thought almost wholeheartedly, because of his mastery in using words and expressions in order to drive home his views. He is one of the very few English authors to commands such universal acceptance. He was the Poet Laureate of Britain and Ireland from 1852 till 1892 during Queen Victoria’s reign.  His book ‘In Memoriam of AHH’ endeared him to the Queen.

Among his most notable works are The Window, Idylls of the King, Montenegro, Becket and Crossing the Bar. The golden  phrases of Tennyson are 

“Nature, red in tooth and claw” (In Memoriam A.H.H.), “‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all”,

“Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die”,

“My strength is as the strength of ten, / Because my heart is pure”,

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”,

“Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers”, and

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new”. 

Crossing the Bar is a simple poem with deep philosophical undertones. Perhaps, his old age weighed on his mind when he penned this.

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The poem .. 

First stanza ..

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,

Meaning .. Dusk is falling fast. The poet, lost in contemplation, saunters along the sea beach. The night sky is getting littered with tiny glows of light from the stars that will soon be there in numbers. The poet feels the sea beckons him towards something unknown. The sea water comes ashore rythmically. But, the poet wants it not to hit the sand bars and make a noise. He wants no hullabaloo, no frenzy, no commotion as he makes his journey into the sea. Apparently, he knew his role on this earth was drawing to a close, but, being wise and unassuming, he detests the idea of people grieving his demise.

Second stanza …

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.

Meaning .. The poet seems ready to embrace death with equanimity and dignified composure. He is resigned to the inevitable departure from earth which all mortals have to face one day. He is content, and relaxed. He expects the tide to come in with all its might, but the least fury, so as not to disturb people. Just the way he was ushered into the world, he wants to depart. His life has seen fulfillment and purpose. That is enough.

Third stanza …

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

Meaning .. Tennyson realizes that the end is coming. The evening bell of the church has begun to ring. The sound is the harbinger of night. It will also call the devotees to evening prayer. After that, darkness will envolope the entire landscape. Life will come to a standstill. Tennyson likens the moment when he will breathe his last. He appeals his community, and the multitude of his adoring readers not to grieve at all. He does not like the pompous farewell ceremony, and the other rituals that follow the death of a illustruous personality. He wants it to be a quiet affair. No one should lament his death: no one should shed tears of sorrow as he bids adieu to this mortal world.

Fourth and last stanza …

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 crossed the bar.

Meaning …The poet hopes that the tide of the sea would take him far away — to another domain where time and space have no relevance. He wants the tide to be large enough to smoothly carry him away as if he is in sound sleep. The high tide should just flow over the sand bar without breaking it. After he is past this point, he hopes to see the Pilot face to face. By Pilot, the poet alludes to God whose command the whole universe obeys.

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Questions and answers …..

Q1. After reading this poem, what sense you get of the poet’s feelings about the way he has lived his life? Does he exude disappointment, or contentment?

Answer .. Alfred Tennyson lived a ‘full’ life. He was one of the most famous litterateurs of his time. Writers, speakers, and thinkers drew cue and inspiration from his works and sayings. With accolades pouring in from all quarters, it is impossible to ever assume that he suffered frustration, isolation or melancholy at any point in his life. Rather, he enjoyed the way the literary public lapped up his couplets and comments. For essayists and public speakers, these have remained gold standard even today.

With so rich a life, and so much love and appreciation, he, perhaps, felt there was nothing more to have in this world. His cup of happiness was full, and there was nothing more left to achieve. He began to develop a philosophical detachment to this world, and a unexplained communion with the Divine. He detested the idea of people grieving over his grave, or writing effusive obituaries about him. He wanted a simple, quiet, and painless departure from the world.

The poem, ‘Crossing the Bar’ is a manifestation of his deep inner thoughts. He is happy to bid adieu, but he doesn’t want a noisy, doleful funeral. Therefore, there is no trace of disappointment about his life. Rather, the opposite is true. He is content with whatever he has accomplished in life.

Q2 …The speaker’s departure from the harbor and entry into the ocean is not really a departure. It is in a way returning home. Discuss with reference to the poem, Crossing the Bar.

Answer … Lord Alfred Tennyson was the son of a clergy. This, possibly, explains why he was inspired by abstract myths and life in unknown domains from his younger days. Tennyson was a man of astounding literary talent. His mastery over the language and his ability to dwell on metaphysical thoughts while writing poetry helped him to produce many poems of lasting value. He wrote ‘Break, Break, Beak’, ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, ‘Ters, Idle Tears’, apart from Crossing the Bar. He also wrote ‘In memoriam of AHH’ that impressed Queen Victoria profoundly. It helped her to soothe her mind after the death of her husband.

Tennyson had always been a deep-thinking, philosophical man. He looked inwards for cues and ideas for his poems. For eighteen long years, he was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland. He rose to dizzy heights in literature, and the higher he went, the more spiritual he became. Long before his death, he had found peace in assuming that he would merge with God after his death. This notion of reaching the Kingdom of God was uppermost in his mind when he wrote ‘Crossing the Bar’. He felt, he belonged to God, and he has entered the world as a stage actor who returns to their normal form after playing their part.

Crossing the Bar meant finishing the role assigned to him by God, and returning to Him. The life in the world was just a phase of existence – a short interval in the long tenure granted by God. In some ways, Tennyson’s views of life were akin to what Hindus think is the cycle of birth and death. For Tennyson, death was not the end of a being, but a rebirth and return to God’s kingdom.

Q3- Why do you think the poet has used the word ‘Pilot’ to refer to God in the poem, ‘Crossing the Bar?  

Answer .. Tennyson had submitted himself to God when he felt his life’s curtain was coming down. He had no guilt, no rancor, no remorse in his mind. He was deeply contented, and very averse to the idea of people grieving his death. For him, death was nothing but the precursor of another stage of life in the kingdom of God. A voyage across a sea is always fraught and uncertain. Navigating through the peril of the sea is the work of a deft man- a ‘Pilot’.

Tennyson felt his transition from this earth to the Heaven will be like sea journey, and God only could stand by him during this phase. This is why, he names God, the ‘Pilot’.

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16 thoughts on “ISC Class 12 Literature -Crosing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson”

  1. Pingback: ISC English -Crosing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson – Write to Score

  2. Soumya Ranjan Das

    The speaker’s departure from the harbour and entry into the ocean is not really a departure. It is in a way returning home. Discuss with reference to the poem, crossing the bar.

  3. Soumya Ranjan Das

    2- why do you think the poet has used the word Pilot to refer to God in the poem, crossing the bar. Give reasons to support your answer.

  4. Soumya Ranjan Das

    Sir please can you post the explanation in short time.
    I will be very grateful.
    Word limits 300 words..

      1. Soumya Ranjan Das

        Sir i couldn’t get the answers…it will be helpful if you mention the exact link…

  5. Soumya Ranjan Das

    Sorry sir to bother you… I found the answers… Thank you sir for your help… Your answers are genuinely helping me… Thank you for your efforts sir…

  6. Utkarsh Gupta

    Discuss the significance of the bar as mathpor for thresholds also discuss tje problam reasons for composing the poem be trnnyson

  7. Do you think there is a hidden meaning in the poem ‘Crossing the Bar’?
    500 words
    Sir can u answer this question today??

    1. Do you think there is a hidden meaning in the poem’Crossing the Bar’? Give reasons for ur answer.

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