Allegorical significance of the poem “Crossing the Bar” ISC Reverie question and answer


Crossing the Bar : by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Question: What is allegorical significance of the poem “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson ?

Answer: In Literature, allegory is a story that uses symbolic objects characters or figures to express an idea or truth to teach a lesson. It upon interpretation reveals a deeper often moral meaning.

      “Crossing the Bar” , written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, at a first glance appears to be an objective poem, in which the poet tells about a voyage in which a ship is going to cross  a sandbar at the entrance of a harbour. But actually it has a literal as well as allegorical meaning. The poem is famous for its allegorical aspect where it reveals a much deeper meaning.

        The voyage is a metaphor for the final journey of man. “Crossing the Bar” is Tennyson’s most famous metaphorical meditation on Death.

     Where “Bar” or sandbar is metaphor used for the demarcation between the harbour and the open ocean, as the barrier between life and death. Thus Crossing the Bar  is the act of passing beyond life, or it can be said that it signifies meeting death.

        The poem begins with the description of a ship that is about to sail on a long voyage at “sunset”when the “evening star” is visible in the sky.  Here the setting of the Sun and appearance of evening star are symbolic of old age of the speaker and his impending death.

       Tennyson was about eighty years old and was recovering from a serious illness when he wrote this poem. He could sense his upcoming death and this was his meditation on Death .

      The ship will set to leave the harbour after ” one clear call” which is the formal announcement of its departure.

    Allegorically the poet says that as the Sun is setting and the day ends his time in this world or we can say his life in this world is also ending. He can hear the clear call of death which is the signal for the speaker that his death is nearing. The speaker further says –

“And may there be no moaning of the bar,”

    Here the Bar has been personified and given the human quality of moaning. When the waves crash against the sand bar a  forlorn or gloomy sound is produced. The speaker wishes when his ship would cross the Bar,there would be no gloomy or moaning sound on the sand bar. Here he hopes for a gentle crossing out of the harbour, without any turbulence or ” moaning of the bar.”   Allegorically he hopes for a painless or smooth death as he wants to move gently from life to death, without any pain and fear.

       In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker hopes for a tide that is “Too full for sound and foam” that it is so full that it can not contain any more sound and foam  and while “moving” it appears to be  “asleep”.

      The speaker hopes that this tide will help his ship to cross that that sand bar smoothly and without turbulence. Allegorically the speaker wants his end to  come quietly and without any turmoil.

    The speaker further says as the tide has come out of this “boundless deep” sea and returns back to its ” home”  again. Similarly his soul will return back to eternity. Thus the speaker finds comfort in the fact that his journey, is both a departure and a homecoming. It is suggestive of the fact that journey from life to death is merely a part of a cycle of birth and death , which every human being has to go through.

    In the third stanza, the speaker on the journey is at the point of “Twilight” and hear an  “evening bell”. After twilight there will be nothing but darkness which implying his impending death. The” “evening bell” appears like death knell that is sounded when somebody dies. The speaker wishes for no   “sadness of farewell”    when he sets out on his final journey.
     ” And may there be no sadness of farewell ,
     when I embark “

      In the last stanza of the poem, the flood or sea, would enable the ship to cross the Bar and finally enter the boundless ocean. It is a reference to the final departure that will carry him far beyond the limits of “Time and Place” i.e. to eternity.  It is suggestive that there is a place beyond our time and space where he hopes to go after his death. This establishes the poet’s belief in afterlife.

     The speaker further says –
“I hope to see my pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar”.

        In above lines the speaker shows his happiness that after crossing the bar ,he would be able to see the “ Pilot” of his ship,face to face. By capitalising  “Pilot” , Tennyson has equated the Pilot with God, but God in the guise of a specially qualified and skilled mariner.

    Just like a hip which is controlled by a skilled mariner, after crossing the Bar means after his death , his soul may be taken far from the limits of the time and space of this world i.e. to eternity. He is quite confident that he will be able to see the God face to face,  whose nature he could only infer while on earth.

   Here the poet compares his dying to the departure of a ship on a voyage into the “boundless deep” sea, he feels no fear and no reluctance at the prospect of leaving life. He has completely surrendered his will to the force which will carry him far away, in the hope to meet the God.m

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