Aug. 6, 2003

Crossing the Bar

by Alfred Tennyson

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Poem: "Crossing the Bar," by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Crossing the Bar

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 crost the bar.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who discovered penicillin, Scottish bacteriologist Sir Alexander Fleming, born in Lochfield, Ayr, Scotland (1881). In 1928 he noticed that one culture of Staphyloccus bacteria had been accidentally contaminated by a green mold called Penicillium notatum, and around the mold there was a circle where the bacteria couldn't grow.

It's the birthday of Irish poet Richard Murphy, born in Galway (1927). He's the author of a dozen books of poetry, including Sailing to an Island (1955) and The Price of Stone (1985).

It's the birthday of poet Diane di Prima, born in Brooklyn, New York (1934). She was part of the Beat movement in the 1950s in New York City's Greenwich Village, and her books of poetry include The New Handbook of Heaven (1963) and Pieces of a Song (1990). She published Memoirs of a Beatnik in 1969, and Recollections of My Life as a Woman in 2001.

It's the birthday of historian Richard Hofstadter, born in Buffalo, New York (1916). He won Pulitzer Prizes for two of his books: The Age of Reform (1955) and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963), which was controversial because it argued that populist politics gave America a deep-seated prejudice against intellectuals. Hofstadter said, "It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by intellectuals, for throughout most of our political history, the intellectual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant or a scapegoat."

It's the birthday of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England (1809). During his life he was as well known as any English poet has ever been-he was considered one of the three most famous people in England, along with Queen Victoria and the politician William Gladstone. In 1850 Tennyson published his long poem In Memoriam (1850), anonymously at first. It was inspired by the grief he felt over the death of his best friend. Everyone knew Tennyson had written it, and it was a huge success. It won him the friendship of Queen Victoria, and Tennyson was made poet laureate. Tennyson moved with his wife Emily to the Isle of Wight to a big, secluded house called Farringford. Alfred took walks on the great chalk cliffs overlooking the sea, composing his poems to the rhythm of his own footsteps. Because he was so isolated he read the newspapers voraciously. He became interested in the Crimean War, which was unpopular, and he wrote his famous poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" to honor the heroism of the soldiers who fought it. In 1864 he published Enoch Arden, which had the largest sales of any book during his lifetime. More than 40,000 copies sold on publication, and in the first year it made Tennyson more than £8,000, as much as the income of many of the richest men in England. In London Tennyson was followed in the streets by admirers, and the walls of his country estate were lined with tourists who sometimes even came up to the house and peered into the windows to watch the family eat their dinner. In 1883 he was offered a peerage, which meant a title as nobility and a place in the House of Lords. He became Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater. It was the first time in history that a man was given the title for his poetry. Three years before he died, Tennyson wrote one of his best-known poems, "Crossing the Bar," in just a few minutes as he sailed to the Isle of Wight. He asked that it always be placed at the end of his books.

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