Alfred Lord Tennyson, England’s late 19th century poet laureate, considered Crossing the Bar to be among his very best work. Collections of Tennyson’s poetry traditionally end with this short poem, this poem as elegy, written in the course of about 20 minutes while Tennyson was on a ferry crossing the Solent from mainland England to his home on the Isle of Wight, Farringford. He was in his early 80s at the time, and recently recovered from a serious illness.
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,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
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 cross’d the bar.
I’ve always loved this poem, with its beautiful extended metaphor about dying. And I love the tides, too, the majestic, slow heartbeat of our planet.
I was curious about the sky over the Isle of Wight when Tennyson wrote this piece. We know it was written in October of 1889. Crossing the Solent would put him about 50° 45’05.33" North and 1° 09’07.29" West. Not too far off the Prime Meridian, so no time off-set for the calculations, and this was years before daylight savings, as well. Sunset and Evening Star. What was in the sky at evening twilight?
I’m not sure where the ferry ran… was it between Gosport and Ryde? Or over toward Yarmouth? Any Tennyson scholars out there? The ecliptic is fairly shallow this time of year, and at this location, so twilight would have lingered from late afternoon to early evening. I believe the ‘Evening Star’ that Tennyson saw was Jupiter, a bright prominence about 12° above the horizon, amid the stars of Sagittarius. A little west of south. In the gloaming, as the poets say. Venus was in it’s ‘Morning Star’ apparition, and not visible. (And all these years I thought it was Venus!) No other bright star or object was anywhere on the horizon, with the exception of Antares, clearly outshone by Jupiter.
Jupiter shone bright in the evening twilight. Antares, heart of Scorpius, shows below, at the horizon. Altair lights above, just visible, in Aquila.