Crossing the Bar
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Stanzas 1-2 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
- The poem opens with the speaker talking about the "sunset" and the "evening star." It is the end of the day ("sunset"), and the evening star, which is actually the planet Venus, is rising.
- The end of the day is, apparently, a "clear call" for the speaker. But a "clear call" for what? To go home? Is there some kind of horn blowing? Does he have really stellar reception on his cell?
- At this point in the poem, it's still too early to tell, but we'll keep the image in mind. Maybe it's a metaphor for something.
- But wait a minute. We know already that Tennyson wrote this puppy when he was nearing the end of his life. So maybe—just maybe—he's speaking metaphorically here about his approaching death. That would explain the sunset, and the call could be all those trumpets, beckoning him to heaven.
- But then again, the speaker is also trying not to think about himself.
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
- The speaker hopes there will be no "moaning of the bar" when he puts out to sea. Sage words, those are. If there's one thing Shmoop knows, it's that moaning and moping in bars is always a bad idea.
- Except the bar here refers to a sandbar—not the boozy kind. Sandbars often form in the mouths of rivers and harbors, and they're something you need to get past if you're hoping to set sail on the wide-open ocean.
- Apparently the speaker doesn't want the sandbar to be disturbed by his departure. But if we really are talking figuratively about death here (as we guessed in the first two lines), then we'll have to interpret what's going on in those terms.
- If he is talking about his departure from life (and not a literal departure from an actual harbor), then he doesn't want the sandbar, or anybody else for that matter, to make a huge fuss out of it.
- In that sense, it sounds like the sandbar is a metaphor for the boundary between life and death, or life and the afterlife. And to reach the afterlife, he has to cross that bar.
- Shmoopers and Shmoopettes, now that we have one stanza behind us, it's time to talk form. We know we're working with something traditional because we've got some rhyming action going down. Star rhymes with bar, and me rhymes with sea. Looks like we've got ourselves a good old-fashioned ABAB rhyme scheme.
- But what about meter? Well, that's a little less clear. Lines 1, 2, and 4 all have six syllables and a sort of daDUM daDUM feeling about them. And line 3 has ten syllables, hinting at iambic pentameter. It seems like we'll be dealing with a mix of iambic meters in this poem, so head on over to the "Form and Meter" section for more.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam
- Looks like, instead of a moaning bar, our speaker would rather sail on "such a tide as moving seems asleep." Get it? Got it? No?
- Shmoop's got your back. Basically, he's just saying that he'd rather be sailing at high tide, when that sandbar is buried way beneath the water.
- In order for that to happen, the tide has to be "too full for sound and foam." In other words, the tide has to be high enough that waves won't break on the sandbar. He can just sail right over it, and be on his merry (deadly) way.
- Tennyson is really flexing his poetry muscles here. Not only is he using the metaphor of sailing to talk about kicking the bucket (and seriously, which one would you rather talk about?), he's also using some figurative language to describe the sea on which he sails. He wants it to seem asleep as it moves, as if the sea were alive.
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
- More tide metaphors here. In fact, we're verging into extended metaphor territory here, when you consider the fact that he's been going on about the tide for a good two stanzas.
- Here, he's continuing the hope he laid out at the beginning of the stanza—that when he sets sail for, you know, the grand adventure that is death, he wants the tide to be high.
- Only in this case, he's using more fancy figurative language to say it.
- "That which drew from out the boundless deep"? That's the tide, being drawn out into the sea (or "boundless deep") by the moon when the tide is low.
- "When it turns again home" refers to when the tide comes back in, filling the harbor and covering the sandbar.
- If the tide is in, that makes for smooth sailing for our speaker. He can cruise right out over that sandbar with nothing standing between him and the boundless deep. Lucky him?
- There's a flip side to this reading though. You might also think that "that which" actually refers to the speaker. As in, he hopes the tide will be cooperative when his soul returns to its home in the boundless deep, or death.