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Lay for the Day 12th October

1892: six days after his death, the Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson, is buried in Westminster Abbey.
A musical setting of his lyric ‘Crossing the Bar’ was sung at the service. He had written the poem a few years before, on the boat from Lymington to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. It was the last poem in the last book to be published in his lifetime, Demeter and Other Poems (1889), and he requested that it should always appear at the end of his collected works, as a swansong.
The poem below was inspired by a visit to the White Hart in Tetford, Lincolnshire, which was Tennyson’s local when he was a young man. He was living then at Somersby, his birthplace. He first met Emily Sellwood, the woman he waited many years to marry, on the road between Somersby and Tetford.
You can still sit on the huge curved settle beside the fire at the White Hart which was Alfred’s favoured seat. The poem below intends no disrespect to the present modest and charming staff of that inn.

Alfred to the Barmaid

Please be large
And make mine a large one.
Be Marjorie or Barbara,
Blonde or dark.

Have a smile
Which in the Public Bar
Pierces the brume of the smokers
For whom you

Pour and pull,
Which may be mental gloom
As well, that soon you will ring their
Parting bell.

But lock us
In with you, we few who
Orbit yet your solar presence,
And dispense

The gold light
And the clear – ruddy beer
And the gin that clings to glasses.
Keep us here

To revere
Your splendid married breasts
And gracious spread of rear, bending
Down for crisps.

How kindly
You heed our ear-bending;
How blindly we adore you, night
And morning.

Oh balm, oh
Barmaid bountifully
Blessed, we pile upon your altar
Votive pence,

Pensively, beyond our
Froth-laced bumpers, a roundness deemed
Most priceless.

Oh bow once
More to the Lounge, oh sway
Those marvellous receptacles,

So much air,
Of blouse and brassière
Once more before my spectacles.
There, oh there

Could I ride
All in the valley of
Life, bright cavalier of a light
Ale brigade.

Come but a
Bit nearer, Maud, Gwen, Rose
Or Vera. My heart is crossing
The bar, dear.

John Gibbens
from The Promise


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar