Thomas Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain” recounts the fateful loss of the RMS Titanic during her maiden voyage on April 15th, 1912. Hardy lost two friends. He wrote the poem nine days later. He lamented that recounting such an event “requires that the author should have something more than paper, pencil, and a strong feeling that the disaster was a terrible one.” The focus of the poem is not on the event itself, but the conception and the entombment of the ship and the people aboard. Not a syllable was exhausted on human suffering or bravery. The piece is a condemnation of human vanity. Hardy uses the tragedy of the Titanic as an allegory for the archaic ignorance humanity possesses in regard to the power of the natural order, of fate.
The antiquated nature of the poem reflects the immortality of the Titanic’s story. Man regards itself as having more power and agency than nature, inflates itself with grandiosity, a “cannot be destroyed” mentality, only to be proved mistaken by the callousness of fate. Several allusions to parables of old and deeply engrained cultural associations perpetuate the tragedy. In the first stanza, “deep from human vanity” (Hardy 2) has a Biblical connection. The book of Ecclesiastes opens with “vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity…” (Bible Ecc. 1.2). Ecclesiastes, in and of itself, is a book focused on the pointlessness of gross human activity, that God’s laws must be followed without regard for humanity’s pursuit of excellence. Moreover, in Ecclesiastes chapter two, “I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought… all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecc. 2.11). This is taken to mean, in regard to Hardy’s piece, that there is no worldly purpose for human commodity other than human glorification. Orpheus, alluded to in the second stanza with “rhythmic tidal lyres” (Hardy 6), was a mythological Grecian musician regarded for his ability to charm all living things towards him with his instrument, a lyre. He died as a result of trying to evade Godly rule and his very human desire to pursue self-interest. Regarding the poem, the wreckage of the Titanic allures many a creature and is “couched” on the seabed as a result of bootless humanity. Furthermore, Hardy’s choice to write three lines to a stanza is symbolic of the cyclic nature of humanity— birth, life, and death. The significance of this symbol, in relation to the piece, is that life continues without regard for human tragedy. The separation of the stanzas with eleven roman numerals is reminiscent of Saint Augustine’s assertion that “the number 11 is the blazon of sin”. The number eleven is considered a symbol of rebellion. Specifically, humanity’s rebellion against fate’s natural order.
The inclusion of roman numerals represents not only numeric symbolism, but, along with indifferent, almost mocking, tone, rhymed tercets, and a tidal rhythm, the perpetual continuity of time despite human destruction. The constant rhyme scheme illustrates a musicality that can be akin to the predictable waxing and waning of the tide. In the sixth stanza, “The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything”, for example, there is no definite meter, but there are coincidental, wave-like rhythms. The music of the language slows when “stirs and urges” is read, forcing the audience to liken itself with the lackadaisical tone. However, not lackadaisical in the sense that the speaker is fatigued, the speaker appears to be indifferent to the tragedy, acutely aware of the pain humanity has brought onto itself. The line, “and the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she” (3) emerges in the third line of the poem. Hardy used “Pride of Life” as a substitute for the word “technology”. Great innovation went into designing the unsinkable ship. “Pride of Life” is capitalized and emphasized because of the egotism humanity had surrounding its modern miracle. The visual image in the third stanza, “Jewels in joy designed/ To ravish the sensuous mind/ Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind” (10-12), illustrates how the jewels that were once held in such importance by the passengers are worthless when they are regarded as anything other than a means unto themselves. The use of alliteration in this line is very effective. The “b” sound is a harsh, almost spitting. The word “blind” personifies the jewels, a telling comparison to the vacuous, selfish nature of man.
The piece, despite colorful imagery and word choice, is bluntly dispassionate. An audience member would generally empathize with the victims of the tragedy, but what Hardy presents is the absence of what is expected. Indeed, the piece is starkly ironic. Humanity, so tersely preoccupied with in the glamour and durability of the ship, or of themselves, does not anticipate the changing tides of fate. Material preoccupation was, in the end, the undoing of the material. Moreover, there is a significant amount of dramatic irony within the piece. From the beginning, the audience is fully aware of the tragedy that befell the Titanic, as is the speaker. The speaker confides, “No mortal eye could see/ The intimate welding of their later history” (26-27). The speaker insists that the event was long intended by fate, but humanity, unable to see beyond it’s nose, was completely unaware that “as the smart ship grew/ In stature, grace, and hue/ In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too” (22-24).It is interesting to note the use of inversion in the aforementioned line and throughout the piece. Inversion in literature implies that something is out of its natural order. The poem in its entirety is inverted, the piece begins with the aftermath of the wreck and then, at the end, acknowledges the actual event.
“The Convergence of the Twain” is an indirect representation of man’s fatal flaw, pride. Despite the pain that Hardy felt after the terrible loss of his friend to fate, the piece does not mourn, it angers. The force of fate trumps all. Hardy does not blame merely the iceberg nor the captain for the event, but humanity as a whole for rendering the ship unsinkable and fate beatable. Indeed; man proposes, God disposes.
Bergmann, Meredith. ““The Convergence of the Twain”: Thomas Hardy and Popular Sentiment.” “The Convergence of the Twain”: Thomas Hardy and Popular Sentiment – Contemporary Poetry Review. Contemporary Poetry Review, 2017. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
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Hardy, Thomas. “The Convergence of the Twain.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.
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