ISC Reverie – symbolism in “Crossing the Bar”


Crossing the Bar  : by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Question : Explain the symbolism present in the poem, ‘Crossing the Bar’ .

 Answer : Symbolism is a literary device which implys with the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities and give meaning different from their literal meanings

       Tennyson has used a number of symbols in the poem “Crossing the Bar”, to enrich the poem and reveal the significance and deeper meaning of the poem.

      The symbol used in the poem are as follows
       Symbol.                       Deeper meaning

● sunset.          :                end of the life

●enening star. :             Venus, advance age and last time of the                                                speaker

●clear call.     :          reminder of upcoming  death

●evening bell :         death knell, a sound that reminds the  speaker it’s time to  go

●bar (sand bar) :       boundary between life and death

●tide.              :           experience of dying, moving calmly and securely

●boundless.  :               Ocean, i.e. eternity

●home.           :              afterlife, being born  again

●twilight        :               last moment of life

● dark             :                   death

● embark.      :                 leaving the land of living  and heading  off  the afterlife

●bourne.        :               boundary or limits

● flood.           :                Sea, death

●far.                :               Unknown place

● Pilot.            :                 God, who has been steering him on this  course the whole time

●sea.                :                   death 

● sailing.        :                  Journey towards death

● crossing.     :               act of dying
  the bar

Significance of symbols :

Significance of these symbols in depicting the theme of the poem –

     The main theme of the poem is “Death and dying “. In this short meditative poem Lord Tennyson had drawn a parallel between a routine journey and the journey into  death.

      The poet has used the metaphor of a ship sailing into the sea to represent the journey of life and a sand bar – which is a ridge between the harbour and the open ocean as the barrier between life and death.

          If the sand bar is Tennyson’s metaphor for the boundary between life and death the ” Crossing the Bar”  is all about crossing from life to death, i.e. act of dying.

         But the poem is not just about death , it is also about what comes before death in most cases – old age.

     The “sunset and evening star” are symbolic of getting old. As the evening star appears in the sky at the time of sunset when the day ends metaphorically it refers the end of the life of the speaker.

          “And one clear call for me!”
        The sunset and evening star  act like a “call” for the speaker to make his final journey from life to death. Thus he can hear a ” clear call” of death.

       Literally the ship is about to sail on a long voyage at sunset when the evening star rises in the sky. After a formal announcement the “clear call” the ship would sail out of the harbour across the sand bar into the vast ocean.

       The vast ocean is a symbol of death. When the waves crash against  the sand bar a gloomy – moaning sound is produced. Here the poet compares this moaning sound with the pain and sorrow related with death. He says –
” And there may be no moaning of the bar 
          When I put out to sea. ” 

    The speaker hopes that when his ship will cross the sand bar there should be no moaning sound of the bar. Allegorically he hopes for a painless and smooth death without moaning.

      The speaker wishes for a tide that is “Too full for sound and foam”  means a tide that is so full that it can not  produce any sound and foam and hence it appears as moving “asleep”.

      Here he hopes that the feeling of death will be so overwhelming that all other feelings will be numbed.

      As the tide return again to the ” boundless deep” i.e.  ocean from where it came, his soul will also be return  to its home i.e. eternity.

     The speaker is trying to diminish the horror of death by drawing attention towards the fact that death is a part of the cycle of birth and death. For him death is just a returning home.

   “Twilight and evening bell
     And after that the dark”
   Here “Twilight” is a symbol of last moments of his life and “evening bell” refers to the death knell, sound of which reminds him of his upcoming death. After this twilight, there will be nothing but ” the dark “

i.e. death.

  But the speaker hopes to cross the bar  cheerfully with “no sadness of farewell ” as the journey in death would lead him far beyond the limits of “Time and Place”. There will be possible for him to see his Pilot face to face.

 ” I hope to see my Pilot face to face
         When I crost the bar “.

 He hopes that when the “flood”  of death will take him far beyond the limits of Time and Place, he will be able to see the God  face to face. Here by capitalizing the word Pilot the speaker refers to God, who as a skilled mariner will take his ship beyond the limits , across the bar. 

     These lines indicates the poet’s belief in afterlife as he believes that dying is simply a stage and afterlife – a return home to eternity . Here the poet has used the word Pilot for  God as the great power that controls and guides our lives.

     Thus the poem is all about death and accepting death rather than fearing the dark unknown.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top