ISC Reverie “Crossing the Bar” : -why Pilot word is used for God


Crossing the Bar : by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Question :  Why do you think the poet has used the word “pilot” to refer the God in the poem ‘Crossing the Bar’? Give reasons to support your answer. 

Answer : The poem ‘Crossing the Bar’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson, describes a voyage across the sand bar at the harbour’s entrance into the sea. But the poem has a deeper meaning.

       Here the poet has used the metaphor of a ship sailing into the sea to represent the journey of life and the ‘sand bar’- a geographical boundary of sand between harbour and ocean, refers to a spiritual boundary, one that separates the temporal world and the limitless regions beyond.

       A ship is scheduled to sail on a long voyage at sunset when the evening star (Venus) has risen in the sky. After a formal  announcement, the “one clear call”, the ship would sail out of the harbour, across the sand bar into the vast ocean.

      Allegorically, the poem describes the final journey of a man towards death. ” Sunset” and “evening star” are the metaphor used to describe the speaker’s old age, as the end of the day represent the end of his life. Similarly Twilight”  and ” evening bell” are also the metaphor used to represent his last moment of life and death knell which is the signal his upcoming death.

   “And after that the dark “
   Where “dark”    refers to his death.

 The poet hopes that –
“And may there be no moaning of the bar ” 
and also –
” And may there be no sadness of farewell “,
      Means the speaker hopes for a painless and smooth death. He is also calm and has an accepting attitude towards death as he hopes for a cheerful departure, one with ” no sadness of farewell ” when he embarks on a new journey.

       The poet hopes for a departure that would be without much noise , so he wishes for a tide, that is  ” too full for sound and foam” ,would help him to reach his final destination. The speaker wishes that feelings of death will be so overwhelming that all the other feelings will be numbed and death will come to him as returning “home”. 

     The speaker is trying to diminish the horror of death by drawing attention to the fact that dying is merely a part of the cycle of birth and death. The going out in the sea is not just death but is a return home to ” boundless deep” from which all mortals come.

     The allegorical meaning of “Crossing the Bar” is the act of dying. The speaker wishes to cross the  bar cheerfully with “no sadness of farewell” as the journey into death would lead him far beyond the limits of “Time and Place” and make it possible for him to see the “Pilot” of his ship.

         The physical world that we inhabit is referred to as the “bourne of Time and Place”. The poet knows that the flood will take him far from the limits of Time and Place and he hopes to see his pilot i.e. God face to face when he has crossed the bar.

       Here the “flood” is referred to one’s faith, the high tide of faith will drown the dangerous sand bar and help him sail away.

    The use of the term Pilot is of great importance. The Pilot is a qualified mariner who steers the ship up to the final destination.
The idea of God being the Pilot of one’s  ship is a recurrent  theme in Christianity. In Seafaring Britain, the Pilot was also a person who  detected the deceptive sand bars and guided the sailors to a safer route towards the sea.

     Pilot here refers to God as He is the one who guides the destiny of human beings through every thick and thin.

      The Pilot, in the poet’s own words refers to “the Divine Presence” – God, a great power that controls and guides human life.

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