Bereavement Poetry: Crossing The Bar By Alfred Lord Tennyson

Posted at 05:50am on 29th November 2008

In the following excerpt from my book, A Painful Post Mortem, one of the characters, Rosie, has been asked by her father to read a poem at her sister's funeral. Curious to remind herself of the long-forgotten verses, she looks out an old book before she goes to bed.


When the baby had been fed and settled and she had checked on the boys, she looked out an anthology of English poems she had been given as a schoolgirl. Steve, who had been clearing up downstairs whilst she had seen to Erin, had not yet come up. Propping herself against the pillows while she waited for him, she opened the book and began to read.

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Rosie’s eyes misted over. The poem had been part of her course work at school, but she had forgotten how moving it was. The bar of which Tennyson spoke was, of course, no public house as her father had jokingly insinuated, but a sandbank or rocky outcrop at the mouth of a harbour or estuary. There was one in South Devon which Dad knew well in his boating days, but she felt sure that this was not the only emotional connection he had formed with the poem.

She thought back to her schooldays, to the lessons in comprehension in which the teaching nuns had excelled. The bar of which Tennyson wrote, she recalled, symbolised the barrier between life and death. But this barrier did not necessarily signify finality. The notion that it could be crossed raised the hope that there was life beyond; calmer waters ahead. Not only that, the dangers of being grounded on a sandbank or dashed against rocks, did not have to be negotiated alone. The Pilot was there waiting; the One who, if invited, would meet and guide the frail craft of a life’s end through the flood, and carry it to safety on the other side.

A fuller description of this beautiful poem may be found here. Written just three years before Tennyson died, it is a symbol of eternal hope and assurance. If you are facing death, you may want to ask for this to be read as a comfort to those who mourn you. Or if you have lost a loved one, this may bring solace to your aching heart. God bless.

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