Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar is an allegory of death, imagined as a journey on an infinite sea. The speaker in the poem, who is the author himself, muses on the call that urges him to “cross the bar”. The whole work is therefore constructed on this principal metaphor, the crossing of the sand barrier and the plunge into the infinite journey on the sea. What is significant in the poem is the way in which Tennyson perceives death. While death is usually perceived as closure, in Crossing the Bar it is understood as a religious encounter.
Death is not only the resolution of earthly life but also the beginning of the afterlife. The imagery of the poem is extremely suggestive for the death theme. Notably, the poet does not focus on the end of life and the pain of separation, but only on the experience that expects him after death. The fact that death is pictured as a threshold and afterlife as a vast sea indicates that the author embarks on this journey without regret. The journey is meant to begin at twilight, which again alludes to the end of life and the beginning of a new experience: “Twilight and evening bell, / And after that the dark!
” (Tennyson 203). The poet also emphasizes that there should be no mourning to accompany him, as he crosses the bar. This idea enhances the poet’s optimistic view of death. The only sound to be heard, that of the dormant tide, is also symbolic. First of all, the drowsiness of the sea emphasizes the idea of death. Also, the retractile movement of the waves expresses the idea that the idea that the traveler will not return from his voyage this time. Death will only be the beginning of eternity and the poet will find the divinity on the other side: For tho from out our borne of Time and Place
The flood may bare me far, I hope to see my Pilot face to face When I have crost the bar. (Tennyson 203) The place after death cannot be mapped by earthly coordinates, such as time and place. Interestingly however, there remains one valid landmark which ensures that the poet will never get lost or suffer in solitude: the pilot. The pilot is obviously a symbol for the spiritual guidance offered by the divinity in both earthly existence and in the afterlife. Thus, Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar is a metaphorical representation of death, as a voyage into the infinite unknown.
The sand bar represents death, while the unlimited sea is the symbol of everlasting life. The most striking figure of the poem is the pilot, an image of the divinity, who awaits the poet on the other side. The boundless sea lacks any earthly coordinates, while it retains only that of spiritual guidance. Through this poem, Tennyson represents death as a passage into a purely spiritual life, guided by God. ? Works Cited: Tennyson, Lord Alfred. Selected Poems (New Oxford English Series). New York: Oxford University Press, 1963.
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