1. Show how "Crossing the Bar" (text) presents death as "both a summons and a reunion" (Kissane 161).

2. Show how "Crossing the Bar" uses nautical imagery to suggest that death is "both a voyage into the grim unknown and a homecoming" (Kissane 161).

3. How may the opening lines be said to embody the poem's "controlling tension" (Kissane 161)?

4. Speculate as to why Tennyson stipulated that "Crossing the Bar" be placed at the very end of all editions of his poems.

5. Kissane has described "Crossing the Bar" as "a splendid and characteristic lyric" (159). Explain this description with specific reference to the poem.

6. Speculate as to why "Crossing the Bar" has been "criticized for a falling off in the last stanza" (A. W. Thomson 246).

7. Explain how the third and fourth stanzas of "Crossing the Bar" tend to "repeat the basic syntactic and rhythmic pattern of [stanzas] 1 and 2" (A. W. Thomson 246).

8. Thomson describes the patterns of the poem thus:

a musing exclamation followed by explication and reassurance in which the longer lines that swell from the optatives . . . are stayed and kept in hand by the renewed short lines. (246)

Apply this analysis to ideas expressed in "Crossing the Bar."

9. Explain the nature of Tennyson's allusions to 1 John 3:2 and I Corinthians 12:12 in the lines "I hope to see my Pilot face to face, / When I have crossed the bar."

10. The logic of depicting God as a ship's pilot may be called into question, since the pilot's job is to assist in the navigation of the ship until it clears the harbour. Speculate as to why Tennyson, crossing to the Isle of Wight from southern England in 1889, chose to describe God as his "Pilot," rather than (for example) his "Compass."

11. Milton Millhauser in "Structure and Symbol in 'Crossing the Bar'" has termed the poem a failure because "metaphor has been reduced to simile" (36). Explain this remark with specific reference to the figurative language of "Crossing the Bar."

12. A. W. Thomson has noted that some of Tennyson's original readers found the image of God as a navigational guide as lacking in "propriety" (246). Establish the cause of their discomfort by specific reference to "Crossing the Bar."

13. Tennyson's poetry often deals with the conflict between religious faith and doubt in an age in which, increasingly, the findings of science were calling into question Christianity's traditional assumptions about man's special place in the universe and his special relationship with his Creator.

In what ways does "Crossing the Bar" reflect this late nineteenth-century philosophical and scientific conflict?

14. F. L. Lucas lyrically describes the poem's voice thus:

The old Tennyson listens to the soundless funeral-march of the outward sweeping of tide. . . . (36)

To what extent is the sensory appeal and sea imagery of "Crossing the Bar" primarily auditory rather than visual? How does the poet invite his readers to "listen" rather than merely "see"?

15. In Tennyson's work in general and in "Crossing the Bar" in particular "The background crowns the work" (F. L. Lucas 15). How does this conception of Nature as not merely a pictorial backdrop but one of the principals in the picture inform "Crossing the Bar"?

16. Explain whether the final note of "Crossing the Bar" is one of guarded optimism or self-rationalization with respect to the issues of the existence of a controlling, compassionate deity and an afterlife in which, to quote Corinthians, we shall see all clearly rather than through a glass darkly.

17. Of what may the "evening star" (line 1) and "evening bell" (line 9) be symbolic? What is symbolically implied about the action of the tide in the second stanza? How may we connect the dominant patterns of imagery here to those in "Ulysses" and "Morte d'Arthur"?

18. The alternating rhyme scheme (ABAB) and iambic trimeter lines are simple, almost elemental, in comparison to the complexities of Blank Verse. Why, then, has Tennyson made the third line of each stanza considerably longer (iambic pentameter)? Why is the fourth line of the second stanza unusually short? Why, although most lines are end-stopped with commas, does Tennyson employ exclamation marks at the ends of lines 2 and 10? Why is line 13 run-on rather than end-stopped?


"Crossing the Bar." http://www.britannica.com/eb/print?tocld=9071704&fullArticle=true

Brooke, Stopford A. Tennyson: His Art and Relation to Modern Life. London: Isbister, 1895.

Buckley, Jerome H. "Tennyson: The Lyric in the Distance." Tennyson: Seven Essays, ed. Philip Collins. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan and St. Martin's press, 1992. Pp. 61-75.

Chiasson, E. J. "Tennyson: A Re-Interpretation." (1954). Critical Essays on the Poetry of Tennyson, ed. John Killham. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1960. Pp. 164-173.

Kissane, James D. Alfred Tennyson. New York: Twayne, 1970.

Lucas. F. L. Ten Victorian Poets. Cambridge: Cambridge U. P., and Archon, 1966; first published as Eight Victorian Poets, 1930.

Millhauser, Milton. "Structure and Symbol in 'Crossing the Bar'." Victorian Poetry 4 (1966).

Poetry of the Victorian Period, ed. Jerome H. Buckley and George B. Woods. Boston: Riverside, 1965.

Thomson, Alastair. The Poetry of Tennyson. London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986.

Last modified 6 January 2005