Happy birthday, Alfred

Alfred Tennyson was born in Lincolnshire on August 6, 1809. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be a poet, but the road was never easy for him. Throughout much of his life he was plagued with poor health; mental illness, seizure disorders, and alcoholism seem to have run in his family. He was dogged by financial difficulties, exacerbated by his penchant for making very bad investments with what little money he had. But through it all, he continued to write. He was approaching middle age by the time he began to achieve success as a poet.

Tennyson’s better-known works include Idylls of the King, a retelling of the stories of King Arthur and his knights; “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” about a British cavalry charge against Russian forces during the Crimean War; and the book-length poem In Memoriam A.H.H., which Tennyson composed over a period of seventeen years after the death of his best friend, Arthur Henry Hallam.

“Crossing the Bar” was not the last poem that Tennyson wrote, but it’s usually the final entry in every collection of his poetry, since that was his express wish. Unlike the very long In Memoriam, in which Tennyson explores in detail his grief, anguish, and crisis of faith after the death of his dearest friend, “Crossing the Bar” is very short and succinct: a calm acceptance of his own approaching death, and the quiet hope that when it arrives, he will meet his Pilot face to face.

Here is “Crossing the Bar” set to music, sung by the Hopeful Gospel Quartet.

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