Study Guide

Crossing the Bar Death

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Death

Sunset and evening star,
    And one clear call for me! (1-2)

This just might be one of the most mysterious moments in the poem. Having read the whole thing, we can see how the imagery might refer to death. But who's calling our speaker? And what are they calling him to? Is it the pilot, from the last stanza?

And may there be no moaning of the bar,
    When I put out to sea. (3-4)

The speaker says he will put out to sea, almost as if he will voluntarily cross the boundary between life and death. The speaker's active role here suggests that he accepts death, that he willingly "puts out to sea." Hey, maybe he's his own pilot.

Twilight and evening bell,
    And after that the dark! (9-10)

The word "dark" is a wee bit worrisome here. The poem's last stanza talks about something resembling an afterlife—the speaker hopes he will meet God (the "Pilot")—but here it kind of seems like there is nothing after death but dark, a big giant blank.

And may there be no sadness of farewell,
    When I embark; (11-12)

Death isn't death, or rather death isn't what we think it is; it can be as casual or as simple as embarking, as getting in a boat and taking off for a different, even better place. At least, that's how the speaker sees it. But do you buy his version of events?

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
    The flood may bear me far, (13-14)

Death seems to represent a release from all the limits (the "bourne") of mortal life. Instead of being a bad thing, death is actually a departure from all the constraints and annoyances of life on earth. Life on earth, in fact, might be more like death than death. So look on the bright side, Shmoopers.

I hope to see my Pilot face to face
    When I have crossed the bar. (15-16)

The speaker says he hopes to see his "Pilot" (probably God) after he crosses the bar. The fact that he "hopes" implies that he's not entirely sure he will meet God after he dies. Uncertainty abounds. But hey, that's kind of the point.

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