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The words to this song are a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He wrote it in 1889, supposedly after he suffered a serious illness while at sea. The 'bar' that is crossed in the poem's extended analogy is of course the sand bar between the river of life and the ocean that lies beyond death, the 'boundless deep' to which we return. Shortly before his own death in 1892, Tennyson told his son Hallam to "put Crossing the Bar at the end of all editions of my poems".

The best-known musical setting of the poem is by Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918), for a capella choir; this is the arrangement used by the Gurt Lush.

Another Victorian choral setting was made by Sir Joseph Barnby, (1838-1896) perhaps best known for his arrangement of another Tennyson poem, Sweet And Low (also in the Lush repertoire).

A more modern arrangement, though in a traditional folk style, was recorded in 1998 by American singer Rani Arbo with her group Salamander Crossing. This setting has also been recorded by the Australian Spooky Men's Chorale.

For another favourite Gurt Lush song about death, see The Long Day Closes.