Read below our complete notes on the poem “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Our notes cover Crossing the Bar summary, themes, and analysis.


Lord Alfred Tennyson composed the poem “Crossing the bar”. He is an eminent Victorian poet. He held the position of Poet Laureate that was the highest official position of a poet within a state. His choice of language in his works is highly formal which reflects the strictures of the Victorian era.

The theme of death is common in Tennyson’s poetry. For instance, he composed “In Memoriam” (1849) in memory of the death of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Similarly, “Crossing the Bar” also explores the theme of death. As the poem was written shortly before his death, it is perceived that he was contemplating his own death during his illness. He wanted “Crossing the Bar” to be placed at the end of his collection of poems as he wanted it to be remembered as his last statement.

Crossing the Bar was written in 1889 when Tennyson fell critically ill at sea. He had travelled to the Isle of Wight where he contracted a severe illness. He was 80 years of age. Therefore, it is perceived that his illness and age led to the composition of this poem based on death. As it was written three years before his death, the poem is remembered as the last piece of Tennyson’s poetry.

Crossing the Bar Summary

The poem is about the approaching death of a human. The poet initiates the poem by narrating about the setting sun and the evening star. He feels that someone is calling him. It implies that he is thinking about his demise. He wonders about the sea and his journey. He does not want to hear the mournful noise of the sea. He wishes that the sea was bloated and unable to produce any sound.

The speaker announces that the time for his departure has arrived, as the day has turned dark. He does not want his farewell to be sad. He is only thinking about what he will find once he reaches his destination by crossing the bar. He hopes to meet the pilot there. By pilot, the poet implies his expected meeting with God.

Themes in Crossing the Bar

Death and acceptance

Death and its acceptance are the major subjects considered in this poem. The poet talks about his looming death. However, the tone of the poem is not sad and morbid. The poet is merely wondering about his death. He does not fear death. It seems that he has accepted his fate. He says that we must not fear death as it is an ultimate reality. Every human has to cross over to the next world. Therefore, we must not be sad about our departure and accept it unflinchingly. At the end of the poem, the speaker hopes to meet the pilot. This implies that the speaker is happily accepting death because he is eager to meet the pilot. By pilot, the speaker means God.


The poem delivers a message of courage and manly honor. The poem implies that a man should be honorable and dauntless in order to face the various ups and downs in his life. The poem encourages us to bravely accept death as it is inevitable.


The poet talks about the concept of life after death in the poem. He implies that after death, he will cross over to the next world and meet the pilot. The location and nature of the place is not explicitly explained, however, according to Christian belief, it can be assumed that he is referring to heaven. 


The poet through various examples wants the reader to understand that time is an important factor in life. There is a specific time for birth and a certain time for death. Similarly, when the time for death approaches, we must make peace with the fact that our time has come. The poem also implies that every happening in our life is governed by time. Therefore, we must understand that if we are dealing with bad times now, our good times will eventually come. 

Old Age

The poet talks about old age through his references for sunset and evening. Mostly people die because of old age. However, the positive aspect of old age is that it brings wisdom. People become wise enough to accept the reality of death. They believe that death is the beginning of another life. The notion of twilight in the poem denotes rebirth.

The Home

The poem specifies that the true home for a soul is not in this world but the otherworld. Therefore, an individual must accept his death in order to reach his true home or destination.

Crossing the Bar Analysis

Stanza 1

The poem initiates with a gloomy note regarding death. The sunset and the evening star collaborate to depict a picture of the closing day. The poet finds the sunset relatable to his life. He correlates his old age with the setting sun. While the approaching night foreshadows his death. As the poet penned this poem three years prior to his demise when he was afflicted with a critical illness, therefore, it can be said that he wrote these lines while contemplating his death. The second line of the stanza suggests that someone is calling him and according to the context of the poem, it seems that the poet realizes that his time on earth is up. His death is beckoning him.

In the third line of the stanza, he hopes that he would not hear any moaning sounds of the bar when he travels towards the sea. Literally, “moaning” denotes the sounds produced by the sea waves when they collide with the sandbar. This happens during the low tide when the bar reappears. This time is the most dangerous for a sea voyage as a ship can collide with the bar resulting in a disaster. So literally, it seems that the speaker wants to avoid a disaster at sea so he does not want to hear the moaning of the bar.

The symbolic meaning of moaning is different. It signifies the pain and agony that accompanies the phenomena of death. It seems that the poet does not want any sadness attached to his death. He wants to leave this world in peace.

The metrical analysis reveals that the poet does not use one specific meter in the poem. Rather, he utilizes a combination of different meters, which makes a significant recurrent rhythm. In the first stanza, the first line is in iambic dimeter, the second one in iambic trimeter, the third in iambic pentameter, and the fourth in iambic trimeter. Variation and amalgamation of these meters create a specific rhythm imitating the ebb and flow of the sea waves.

Stanza 2

The second stanza starts with a qualifier “but”. The poet says that such a tide, which performs the great task of carrying a person from one realm to another one, is dignified and deep. It seems that the tide is overflowing with sound and foam, thus, it appears calm. Literally, the only full tide can carry a ship safely across a bar. Symbolically, the poet wants to signify that a person can face death bravely only if he has great faith in God. The depth of the tide refers to strong faith.

The last line “turns again home” refers to the sea waves. It implies that the waves initiate from the vast sea, touch the shore briefly and then return to the deep ocean of infinity. “Boundless deep” in the third line of stanza symbolizes the eternal home of the soul. Here the poet refers to the Christian belief that life on earth is temporary. Ultimately, every individual has to return to the real home of the soul, which lies in another realm.

Stanza 3

In the third stanza, the poet depicts a transition from dusk to darkness. Twilight signifies the sunset, and the evening bell signals the approaching night. Since the start of the poem, the time has changed from evening to night. The evening represents the age of the writer while the approaching darkness signifies his death.

 In line three, he wishes that there would be no sadness during his departure. The poet has embraced his doom without any regrets; therefore, he does not want to be miserable when his time to leave comes. The sadness of farewell also signifies the grief of other people when a human being dies. The poet does not want his family and close ones to be wretched due to his death. He desires to travel to the new realm with a calm and tranquil mind.

 The word ‘embark’ is used as a metaphor here. It literally means setting to sail, however, in the context of the poem, it suggests the journey of the speaker from the land of the living towards life after death.

Stanza 4

The poet refers to this world with the phrase,“bourne of Time and Place “. The word bourne literally refers to a boundary or a domain. This world is limited in time and space. The speaker acknowledges that the flood in the ocean will take him away from the physical world that is transient.

He wishes to meet the Pilot once he crosses the sandbar. The flood mentioned by the poet represents the faith of the speaker. He hopes that his great faith in God will help him to cross the bar bravely and help him to reach his final destination.

He hopes to meet the Pilot once he crosses the bar. The notion that God is the pilot of everyone’s life is a major theme in Christian belief. Therefore, it can be surmised that by Pilot, he means God.

It must be noticed that he seems certain about the inevitability of death, therefore, he uses ‘When I have’ to refer to death. However, he uses ‘hope to see’, when he refers to God. It seems that he might be unsure about his meeting with God but his conviction regarding death is strong.

Setting of the poem

The poem is set in the imaginative world of the poet. He uses the extended metaphor of sandbar to define the concept of death. The bar refers to the barrier between the coastal area and the sea. Consequently, the whole poem is set in the scenario of sea and shore. Meanwhile, according to the opening line of the poem, it seems evening time.

Point of view

The identity of the speaker in the poem is not specified. Some critics believe that Tennyson is the speaker; however, the poem offers no distinguishing features in order to make that assumption. The poem is written in the first-person narrative.

Structural Analysis

There are four quatrain stanzas in the poem. The rhyming scheme of the whole poem is  ABAB CDCD EFEF. The arrangement of the lines in the poem is similar to that of a ballad verse. However, it lacks any obvious meter. 

 The length of the lines is random. The length of the lines varies between six, and four syllables each.  The themes in the poem are linked with each other. The stanzas don’t express individual meanings. All of them are firmly interwoven and convey the message onward to the subsequent ones.

Use of Literary Devices in Crossing the Bar


The poet sparingly uses alliteration as a poetic device in the poem. In the second line of stanza 1, alliteration can be clearly discerned. The two /c/ sounds in ‘clear call ‘depict alliteration and it draws the attention of the reader to the rhythm of the poem. It also helps the poet in emphasizing the meaning.

‘May and ‘moaning’ show alliteration in the third line of stanza 1. The theme of the poem regarding the peaceful reception of death is reinforced here. The /m/ sounds suggest that the speaker wants to leave this world quietly without disturbing the world.

The two /f/ sounds alliterate in line 2 of stanza 2. It depicts a sense of completeness. Similarly, in the last lines of the poem, /f/ sounds alliterate and reinforce the notion of the speakers approaching death.

The poet employs alliteration to highlight certain moments.


The repetition of vowel sounds within the same verse is assonance. The sound /o/ in Line three of stanza one, “And may there be no moaning of the bar” depict assonance. While the last stanza, line three also shows assonance in the sounds of /i/ and /a/ in “I hope to see my Pilot face to face.”


Imagery is a poetic device that awakens the five senses of the reader through the use of specific words. The reader is able to visualize sound, image, scent, and flavor through these words.

The poet uses certain phrases to create visual and auditory images in the mind of the reader. For instance, “Sunset and Evening star’’create a visual of dusk.  “But such a tide as moving seems asleep” creates a serene and calm visual. The reader is able to feel peace and tranquility.

The phrase “evening bell “creates an auditory image in our minds. It seems like a warning bell.  While the word ‘bar’ creates a visual of a barrier. The use of imagery by the poet accentuates his emotions and perceptions, which he wants to communicate with his reader.


Enjambment can be witnessed in the last two lines of the poem. Enjambment occurs when a verse does not end and continues in the next line without any break.

For instance,

“I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.”


When human qualities are given to non-living things, it is known as personification. The poet has personified the “sandbar “in the first stanza. He uses the word moaning in association with the bar. A bar is an inanimate object and the word moaning is associated with animate beings, therefore, it is established that the bar is personified here.

Likewise, he personifies the tide in ‘But such a tide as moving seems asleep’. He uses asleep for tide and suggests that tide is asleep like humans.


Euphemism is a literary technique, which is used to describe an abrasive situation in milder tones. The poet uses euphemism to define the phenomenon of death. Although, death is an unpleasant circumstance for people, however, the writer normalizes the concept of death.


 ‘Crossing the bar’ which is also the title of the poem is used as a metaphor by the poet. It denotes the act of transition from life to death. A sandbar is a kind of barrier between the river water and the sea. The poet uses a sandbar metaphorically to represent death. The river water signifies his life while the sea indicates the afterlife, which is deep and mysterious.  

In line 2 of stanza one, the ‘call’ is not a literal one but a metaphor. It symbolizes the belief of the speaker that his old age and critical illness is a reminder that his death is soon approaching.  


Tennyson ingeniously uses symbols to connote his ideas and perceptions in the poem.  The words “Evening” and ‘twilight’ used in the poem literally mean the time between daylight and night. Symbolically, these phrases signify his old age, which is a phase between his life and death.

He uses the word ‘bar’, which implies that there is a barrier amid life and demise and one has to cross it to reach the other world.

Tennyson uses ‘Pilot’ in the last stanza, which literally means someone who guides a ship or a plane. In this case, it symbolizes God. Tennyson was a firm Christian and he believed in the afterlife and the meeting with God in heaven. Therefore, in these lines, he seems to be hoping for a meeting with the ultimate creator when he enters the next realm.

Additionally, the punning of “crossing” a “bar” might imply a different meaning. It might indicate the cross of Jesus Christ as Christian faith suggests that the cross is a transition, which enables a person to leave this world and reconcile with God.

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