At the time of writing, Tennyson was losing his sight and preparing to meet his final days. Each stanza metaphorically demonstrates the way he wanted his life to be celebrated. Read carefully between the lines and it can be discovered that he likened his life to a voyage, and from that voyage he was preparing to sail back home to his Maker. The “bar” is in fact that sandbank that lies in the estuary of a river. The sand moans softly under the weight of the outgoing tide, symbolising the notion of friends weeping as he departed. And of course, the “bourne, ” his point of departure, is his little kingdom, the mouth of his river. A truly spiritual and majestic poem, a brave and inspiring monument to an extremely brave man.
Our mother recited this poem from her hospital bed eight years ago. It was the last time I saw her alive. She passed a few days later at 89, a gifted woman who gave way more than she received.
Last night my sister and I recalled that day in the hospital. Couldn't remember who wrote it, so after we hung up I pulled out Bartlett's Quotations, and there it was, Tennyson's 'Crossing the Bar'. As I read it, I remembered the twinkle in Mom's eye and her smile. I called sis back and told her who and where.
This is one of the most powerful poems of all time. It was read as an eulogy for Helen Nearing, and is a tribute to the courage each of us has to face our lives with commitment for a journey none understands completely.