The Convergence of the Twain
(Lines upon the loss of the Titanic – April 1912)
On the Title: Hardy uses two interesting words: ‘convergence’ and ‘twain’. A convergence is a meeting of two paths, or entities – in this case, a collision! ‘Twain’ is an archaic word for ‘two’, i.e.; both the ‘Titanic’ and the iceberg. Such a title immediately positions the reader to the direction in which the poem will go. Hardy is not, as many elegiac poems of the day were, preparing to mourn the loss of the ship and the lives upon it but rather proceeding to examine the philosophical nature of the collision; perhaps it was fated?
The other current use of “twain” was in the pseudonym “Mark Twain,” made famous by the publication – initially in England – of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in 1886. Clems adopted the nom de plume to suggest “uncomfortable waters” or “tight navigation,” since two fathoms (“twain,” the sounding of a Mississippi deck-hand measuring the depth beneath the keel) would be dangerous for a steamboat.
Background Information: The ocean liner ‘RMS Titanic’ famously sank, at two o’clock in the morning, upon the 15th April 1912. The disaster claimed 1,502 lives. Hardy was asked to write a poem to be read at a charity concert to raise funds in aid of the tragedy disaster fund. It was first published as part of the souvenir program for that event.
Overall Structure: Hardy writes eleven regular triplet stanzas, with an AAA rhyme scheme throughout. The use of triplets allows for a more thorough exploration of ideas in each stanza; unified by the use of the rhyme scheme. Perhaps he also does this to create the effect of inevitability, for the rhymed words form their own "paths coincident" that lead to a preset conclusion – the reader knows, that is, with which sound each stanza will end after he or she has only read the first line of that stanza. However, that knowledge only appears are having read the first few stanzas or so, echoing the idea that knowledge of those coincident paths of which the poem speaks is not always immediately discernible.
Themes: The Vanity of Man, The Relationship between Man and Nature, Fate, Classical Entities.
Difficult Language Notes: “The Immanent Will” – a force of fate.
“Salamandrine” – associated with the salamander (a mythical creature)
The poem runs in straight sets but I wish to divide in two for ease of analysis. ‘Part I’ exists from Stanzas I to VI, whilst ‘Part II’ takes the form of Stanzas VII to XII.
Part I Notes:
First Stanza Notes:
Hardy introduces his poem in medias res – the ship has been sunk and lies silently at the bottom of the ocean. He creates a calm effect over his poem through the consonance of the ‘s’ sounds:
“In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.”
Particular elements of diction are worthy of note:
“Deep from human vanity” – this line points to the emerging theme of man’s failed vanity, in creating such a grand object to rule over the natural world, only to have Nature smite it. The phrase “Pride of Life” accentuates this principle. Note how Hardy uses capital letters to make otherwise simple abstract nouns definitive.
Although this is pre-emptive, I will now examine the theme of vaingloriousness (and point out notable pieces of evidence throughout the remainder of the poem) which Hardy presents. He uses irony to evoke the ridiculousness of man's plans. In stanzas I through to V, he juxtaposes images of the ships opulence, such as its "mirrors meant / To glass the opulent" and the ship’s "gilded gear" with images of the "cold currents", “sea-worms” and "moon-eyed fishes" that now flow, crawl and swim through those former interiors. This creates a tangible image of the human vanity referred to in this first stanza; what people design for greatness ultimately ends up in a place of abasement.