Crossing the Bar
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Stanzas 3-4 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
- Not that we're expert sailors or anything, but does it sound a little risky to anyone else that this dude is setting sail at twilight of all times? Fair warning, fair Shmoopers, the open ocean in the pitch dark sounds like a recipe for sheer terror.
- But nevertheless, our speaker's headed that way—setting sail after the sun has set, and planning to still be at sail when he reaches the open ocean, where electricity is hard to come by.
- These lines call back to the first stanza, when the speaker cries, "sunset and evening star." Only here, the imagery has changed a bit. It's now twilight (not sunset), and he hears a bell, instead of a call. Time is passing—it's a bit later in the process.
- The bell reminds us of two things—the bells you might hear on boats in a harbor, and the trumpets we mentioned in stanza 1, which call people to the afterlife.
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
- Oooh, things are getting personal. The speaker, when he finally sails on out of this harbor, doesn't want the people he leaves behind to be bummed and make a big scene.
- In fact, it sounds like he doesn't even want these folks to say goodbye at all. There's just too much sadness in all that tear-jerking fanfare.
- In yet another echo of the first stanza, these words call back to the speaker's wish for no "moaning of the bar."
- The gist here is that this guy wants to just slip away in the night—no muss, no fuss, no awkward side hugs or cheek kisses. When he goes, he just wants to be gone.
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.
- All right Shmoopers, it's time to get this show on the road. The speaker brings it home in this final stanza, wrapping up his sailing-as-death extended metaphor and leaving us with a little spiritual hope to boot.
- First, he says he knows that "the flood," or sea may "bear [him] far," or take him far beyond the "bourne of Time and Place," or boundary of time and place.
- This is the first dead-on, unmistakable moment in which we know that this guy is not talking about a weekend sail on his sloop. We mean, we've never heard of a seaside town called Time and Place—have you?
- Then, he says that, even though he knows this is all gonna go down, it's cool, because he thinks he's going to get to see his "Pilot face to face."
- What's that about? Well, if we're following the whole sailing-as-death metaphor through, our best guess is that our speaker's Pilot (with that capital letter and all) is none other than God himself—the man upstairs. Instead of a pilot of a boat, God has been the pilot of this speaker's life.
- And guess what? When the speaker finally crosses that sandbar and reaches the open ocean—when he finally crosses over into death, we mean, he'll come face to face with God in heaven.
- So really, it's not all that bad. Sure, he's headed into darkness, but at least God's at the other end of it.