Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Convergence of the Twain” is an unusual perspective on the loss of RMS Titanic on 15 April 1912. The first five stanzas of the poem concern the submerged ship itself, while the last six discuss its fate while afloat.
The English poet and author Edmund Blunden, in his short book Thomas Hardy (1942), wrote: “His poem on that ocean tragedy, which so struck the world, was one of extraordinary visual imagination. It was given by Hardy for the programme of a Dramatic and Operatic Matinée in aid of the Titanic Fund, in May 1912.” This sentiment was echoed by the English poet and writer Robert Gittings in his biography The Older Hardy (1978), who described it as “one of the finest poems he ever composed for a public occasion”.
Hardy seems to be contrasting the materialism and hubris of society with the integrity and beauty of nature. He barely mentions the great loss of life and there is a hint of the sardonic. Hardy’s description anticipates the sighting of the wreck by Robert Ballard in 1985 and the melancholic images of the liner resting in isolation on the bottom of the Atlantic. There is an echo, too, of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – “Those are pearls that were his eyes.”
In a recent programme for National Geographic marking the anniversary of the disaster, James Cameron, director of the film “Titanic” drew a parallel between the ship, with its frail human cargo, sailing unwittingly towards the iceberg and today’s planet sailing wittingly towards the disaster of climate change. The tragedy of 1912 still evokes wonder. Here is Thomas Hardy’s poem:
“In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.
Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls – grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.
Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.
Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: ‘What does this vaingloriousness down here?’. . .
Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything
Prepared a sinister mate
For her – so gaily great –
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.
And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.
Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said ‘Now!’ And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.”