Crossing The Bar

Looking towards Freshwater Bay from Tennyson Down

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) was the fourth of 12 children. Their father Reverend George Tennyson, tutored his children in classical and modern languages. Home life was difficult, their father suffering frequent mental breakdowns and alcoholism. Alfred though escaped the troubles of home when he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge. While there he formed a close friendship with Arthur Henry Hallam. Hallam’s sudden death in 1833 had a profound affect on Tennyson. The long elegy In Memoriam A.H.H. is a tribute to Hallam and includes the lines Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all. Tennyson’s poems are too numerous to list, but some of his most famous poems include Ulysses, The Lady of Shalott, The Charge of The Light Brigade, and Crossing the Bar.

I recall from my own high school days having to learn Crossing the Bar, though today I would need to refresh my memory a little! From 1850 until his death in 1892 Tennyson lived on the Isle of Wight and always within view of the sea. Crossing the Bar is a sustained metaphor on death and dying. Tennyson wrote the poem in 1889 when he knew death was close but he had no fear of death. Tennyson believed death was part of living and one great adventure, like setting out to sea beyond the sand bar into the oceans wideness and the beckoning horizon. His sure trust and hope was in the end to meet face to face with the Pilot – God. This thought influenced perhaps by 1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known, sustained Tennyson in hope. He requested that all collections of his poems, if printed, end with this poem. Take time to enjoy this poem and its ABAB rhyme scheme, the first and third lines rhyme with each other and the second and fourth lines will also rhyme with each other. What lines do you keep turning back to read and even learn by heart?

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 tho’ 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.

Gracious God
I rejoice in this gift of life.
May I feel your presence close
even though i cannot see or touch you.
O God of Past, Present and Future,
assure me that your Spirit ever surrounds
all of us as we journey through life.
Remind us of our own mortality and
remind us of your eternal promise.
With hope and joy might we live
with the words of St. Paul
For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully,
even as I have been fully known. Amen.

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