1. How is the poem ‘Crossing the Bar’ an elegy?
Ans. In the ‘Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory’, an elegy has been described as “a poem of mourning for an individual, or a lament for some tragic event.” It usually deals with the theme of death, and the protagonist laments over an incident. In the poem ‘Crossing the Bar’, however, it is slightly different. Although the poem is an elegy, the speaker does not seem to be unhappy or grieved over something. He seems to be celebrating the fact that he’s going to die and will be meeting the all-pervading God. The tone of the poem is calm and serene. There isn’t any kind of tension or grief that the readers may sense while reading the poem. The speaker begins to narrate his experience of receiving a call to embark on a voyage. From where does he receive a call is not stated at this point. He goes on to say that no one should lament, as he wishes to meet his “Pilot” after he crosses the harbour. It is an allegory meaning that when he dies no one should grieve over his death, as death is only the beginning for him to start a beautiful journey. He wants his soul to become one with God. We must note that at the time of writing the poem, Tennyson was eighty years old. He probably wrote this spiritual poem facing the hard reality of life, that everyone has to die someday or the other. There is an acceptance of death in his tone. The speaker believes that there is life after death. Death is not the end, but the beginning. The human body serves only as a temporary abode for the soul (which is eternal). The poet believes that if one has faith in the Almighty, death ceases to be frightening.
2. Do you think that the soul’s journey from life to death is not an end, but a return to its home? Why?
The poem ‘Crossing the Bar’ by Lord Alfred Tennyson is an allegory. It describes the speaker’s (a passenger) literal and spiritual journey from the harbour to the ocean, where he’ll clearly meet the pilot of his ship. Metaphorically speaking, the poem widely speaks of a soul’s journey after death, and its meeting with the Almighty. The poem begins with the speaker receiving a call to set out on a sea voyage. He wishes that there should not be any mourning when he sets out for the journey. He wants everyone to be happy as he is only going to return to the place from where he started. The speaker wishes to meet his “Pilot” face-to-face, after crossing the sandbar. It is a reference to the soul meeting the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God. A soul starts its journey from the ‘boundless’ depths of the universe, and completes the full cycle of life, returning to its place of origin. The soul does not have any emotional connections with the material things of life. It does not bound itself to any familial bonds. It only wishes to be one with God; that is where it truly resides. It comes into a body for a brief period of time and leaves it to return to where it originates. Just like a ship is guided by the pilot, similarly our souls are guided by God, who calls us back when our journey on this earth is over. The speaker wishes that his journey be smooth when he crosses the sandbar, which means that he wishes his death to be without any pain and suffering. He is old and he knows that death will embrace him any day. He wants to leave his temporary abode (his body) and meet God. Therefore, we can say that the soul’s journey from life to death is indeed a return to its home, its final resting place.
3. What do you think are the highlights of the poem ‘Crossing the Bar’?
Ans. ‘Crossing the Bar’ is an allegory which describes a sailor’s wish to cross the harbour, into the ocean, and meet the ‘Pilot’ face-to-face. But metaphorically, the poem is about a soul’s journey from life to death, but death not being the end. After the demise of the body, the soul meets God, and becomes one with Him. It is this journey of the soul that the speaker focusses on. Lord Tennyson feels that death is something which should not be feared. It is a peaceful state when one is absolved of their worldly duties and starts on a clear and peaceful voyage. Another highlight of the poem is the existence of God. The word ‘Pilot’ in the poem can be a reference to God, or Tennyson’s friend Arthur Hallam who died at a young age. It can be interpreted in multiple ways. The beauty of this poem lies in the fact that it can be read as a spiritual or a religious poem, or the one that eulogizes qualities like loyalty and friendship. Perhaps Tennyson missed the presence of his best friend in his life so much, that he wished to meet him after death. God is the one who guides our life and activities. When we die, it is only the body that gets destroyed, and not the soul. The soul ventures out on its journey to unite with God. The poem also points towards the fact that death is a change of worlds, and not a destruction of the soul. It is not to be feared, but rejoiced. The soul moves to a better place where there are no miseries, sorrows etc. Therefore, we need to understand that one should face death in a calm and peaceful manner. The speaker believes that there is a life beyond death, and it is much more beautiful than the one we are experiencing right now.
4. Discuss the form and structure of the poem ‘Crossing the Bar’.
Ans. ‘Crossing the Bar’ is an elegy, as it discusses the theme of life and death, even though the tone is not sorrowful. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ababcdcdefef gaga. The lines “For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place” and “I hope to see my Pilot face to face” are pentameters. The line “And may there be no moaning of the bar” is in iambic pentameter. The poem has been written using simple language, without the use of any complex words. Most of the words are monosyllabic, such as, “star”, “call”, “home”, etc. The word ‘bourne’ refers to the physical boundary of the harbour and the ocean, as well as the spiritual boundary, i.e. the physical world from the metaphysical. While on the one hand, the poem deals with the experience of a sailor wanting to leave the harbour, so that his ship can sail in the middle of the ocean; on the other hand, it brings forward the deeper meaning of a soul departing the materialistic world for a greater cause— to unite with God.
Some of the figures of speech which Tennyson uses in his poem are—
(a) Metaphor: In this, a comparison is done between two different things, but the meaning is not clearly implied in the sentence. One example is- “Twilight and Evening Bell” Here, though a direct reference is to the evening bell in churches, in the poem it is a reference to the speaker’s old age and impending death.
(b) Personification: In this, an inanimate object is usually given human-like attributes. For example- (i) “And may there be no moaning of the bar” Here, we know that the bar cannot moan, but it has been attributed human-like qualities. (ii) “But such a tide as moving seems asleep” Here, we know that the tide cannot fall asleep, but it has been provided with such qualities.
(c) Imagery: The poem is replete with imageries of sunset, death, ocean, tides, evening bell, flood, bar, and so on. They help us to visualize the scenes with clarity and imagination.
(d) Alliteration: It is the repetition of consonant sounds in a sentence. For example- “And one clear call for me”