Crossing the Bar -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 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.

Summary

The speaker heralds the setting of the sun and the rise of the evening star, and hears that he is being called. He hopes that the ocean will not make the mournful sound of waves beating against a sand bar when he sets out to sea. Rather, he wishes for a tide that is so full that it cannot contain sound or foam and therefore seems asleep when all that has been carried from the boundless depths of the ocean returns back out to the depths.
The speaker announces the close of the day and the evening bell, which will be followed by darkness. He hopes that no one will cry when he departs, because although he may be carried beyond the limits of time and space as we know them, he retains the hope that he will lolook upon the face of his “Pilot” when he has crossed the sand bar.

Form

This poem consists of four quatrain stanzas rhyming ABAB. The first and third lines of each stanza are always a couple of beats longer than the second and fourth lines, although the line lengths vary among the stanzas.

Themes

THE RECONCILIATION OF RELIGION AND SCIENCE

Tennyson lived during a period of great scientific advancement, and he used his poetry to work out the conflict between religious faith and scientific discoveries. Notable scientific findings and theories of the Victorian period include stratigraphy, the geological study of rock layers used to date the earth, in 1811; the first sighting of an asteroid in 1801 and galaxies in the 1840s; and Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection in 1859. In the second half of the century, scientists, such as Fülöp Semmelweis, Joseph Lister, and Louis Pasteur, began the experiments and work that would eventually lead to germ theory and our modern understanding of microorganisms and diseases. These discoveries challenged traditional religious understandings of nature and natural history.
For most of his career, Tennyson was deeply interested in and troubled by these discoveries. His poem “Locksley Hall” (1842) expresses his ambivalence about technology and scientific progress. There the speaker feels tempted to abandon modern civilization and return to a savage life in the jungle. In the end, he chooses to live a civilized, modern life and enthusiastically endorses technology. In Memoriam connects the despair Tennyson felt over the loss of his friend Arthur Hallam and the despair he felt when contemplating a godless world. In the end, the poem affirms both religious faith and faith in human progress. Nevertheless, Tennyson continued to struggle with the reconciliation of science and religion, as illustrated by some of his later work. For example, “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After” (1886) takes as its protagonist the speaker from the original “Locksley Hall,” but now he is an old man, who looks back on his youthful optimism and faith in progress with scorn and skepticism.

THE VIRTUES OF PERSEVERANCE AND OPTIMISM

After the death of his friend Arthur Hallam, Tennyson struggled through a period of deep despair, which he eventually overcame to begin writing again. During his time of mourning, Tennyson rarely wrote and, for many years, battled alcoholism. Many of his poems are about the temptation to give up and fall prey to pessimism, but they also extol the virtues of optimism and discuss the importance 
of struggling on with life. The need to persevere and continue is the central theme of In Memoriam and “Ulysses” (1833), both written after Hallam’s death. Perhaps because of Tennyson’s gloomy and tragic childhood, perseverance and optimism also appear in poetry written before Hallam’s death, such as “The Lotos-Eaters” (1832, 1842). Poems such as “The Lady of Shalott” (1832, 1842) and “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854) also vary this theme: both poems glorify characters who embrace their destinies in life, even though those destinies end in tragic death. The Lady of Shalott leaves her seclusion to meet the outer world, determined to seek the love that is missing in her life. The cavalrymen in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” keep charging through the valley toward the Russian cannons; they persevere even as they realize that they will likely die.

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