"The Convergence of the Twain"ÃÂ-- An Account of Vanity, Ice, and Fate in the Atlantic Ocean Fourteen days after the Titanic sank on April 14, 1912, Thomas Hardy wrote "The Convergence of the Twain"ÃÂ to raise money for the survivors of the wreck of that "unsinkable ship."ÃÂ He creates for the reader a well-focused, starkly unemotional account of one crucial moment in time when the "Immanent Will"ÃÂ that guides the action of the poem allows the superficial designs and desires of mankind to meet with the indifferent forces of nature.
The imagery in Hardy's poem is tight and concise. He uses images of isolation, hot, and cold to emphasize the funereal depths to which the ship has sunk. The reader feels the finality of loss knowing that the ship is "In a solitude of the sea."ÃÂ The irretrievable loss is reinforced by the knowledge that the "salamandrine"ÃÂ fires that produced the steel ship, ran the engines, and gave it life are now quenched by the "cold currents"ÃÂ which are circulating through its the steel arches and beams turning them into "tidal lyres."ÃÂ
It will not be reclaimed by its builders.
Hardy uses the images of "human vanity"ÃÂ and "the Pride of Life,"ÃÂ to portray shallow moral values and to imply that the ship was built as a monument to the worldly values of society. They create the sense that this "vaingloriousness"ÃÂ on the bottom of the sea was a worthless, pointless creation, built to satisfy the excessive pride of trivial values. The mirrors meant to "glass the opulent"ÃÂ have been relegated to the ocean floor and "sea-worms"ÃÂ crawl over them, "grotesque, slimed, dumb, and indifferent."ÃÂ The jewelry of the rich and pampered travelers will no longer "ravish the sensuous mind."ÃÂ Now below the waves, it lies in the dark, "bleared and black and blind"ÃÂ with no light to reflect its glory. The ostentatious display of wealth is reduced to the detritus of the ocean floor. The only lives to notice this intrusion into the black depths of oblivion are the "moon-eyed fishes"ÃÂ and they dispassionately inquire, "What does this vaingloriousness down here?"ÃÂ Even the fish, which require enormous eyes to see in the dark, know that the "gaily great"ÃÂ accomplishment of the shipbuilders has come to naught.
The imagery connected with the iceberg is ominous and foreboding and the reader begins to understand that possibly more that simple circumstance is guiding the fate of the ship. Far away, and unknown to the ship and its proud builders, there is "a Shape of Ice"ÃÂ growing. The ice, like the ship, is magnificent in its own realm. It too has been prepared with the same care, as has the ship; they grew together "in stature, grace and hue."ÃÂ Although they seemingly have no relationship to one another, it is clear that the ice is being "prepared as a sinister mate"ÃÂ for the ship. This metaphor of marriage is carried through to the end of the poem. That this ice has been growing for a long time, and is in a "shadowy silent distance,"ÃÂ further warns the reader that the meeting of these two giants of the sea will lead to disaster. The "Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything"ÃÂ seems to be willing to allow, and even encourage the joined destiny of the ship and the ice. Being "twin halves"ÃÂ of an "august incident,"ÃÂ confirms that though their crossing paths may have been coincidental, this inadvertent juncture will be used for the purposes of this higher force. Finally, Fate as personified by the "Spinner of the Years,"ÃÂ issues the command of "Now!"ÃÂ to force the fatal union of two monumental partners into a disastrous joining. The impact had the force to "jar two hemispheres"ÃÂ--a truly cataclysmic event. The Titanic represented the vaunted accomplishment of men and machine, and the iceberg represented the unyielding force of nature. To heighten the feeling of utter indifference to this event and the fragility of men's accomplishments, the iceberg would survive the collision, while the magnificent ship would be forever lost.
As seen through the eyes of an unknown and indifferent narrator, Hardy shares with the reader a glimpse into the pre-destined convergence of two titanic forces, the force of man-made machine and the nature-made monolith of ice. This poem is written in eleven triplets. Many of the stanzas are written as complete sentences and they create a rhythmic feel much like the waves that cover the Titanic. The frequent use of alliteration such as "bleared, black and blind,"ÃÂ and "solitude of the sea"ÃÂ¦stilly couches she,"ÃÂ add to the rhythmic cadence of the poem.
The first five stanzas tell the reader that, in fact, the ship now lies on the bottom of the ocean. In answer to the querying fish that ask what such a profligate object is doing on the ocean floor, he uses the next five stanzas to explain that an iceberg had been prepared as a groom to unite the ship. The last stanza succinctly states that indeed, the "Spinner of Years,"ÃÂ who is the unseen, but uniting force between the ship and the ice, commands the convergence of the two.
There is a dispassionate tone of candor in the narrator's observation that the two massive forces are about to collide. An absolute lack of acknowledgement that there are 1500 people affected by this union gives the poem a tone of neutrality that would not exist if the blatant sentimentality of human suffering was explored.
Hardy's poem is a contemptuous criticism of the mechanical abilities of men and the extent to which they extend their abilities to create ostentatious monuments to themselves. He presents the idea that destiny is the controlling force of all and, even though men have the ability to control steel and fire and forge it into a magnificent ship, they do not have the ability to control fate. Nature, ever present, and often unobserved in the shadows, will continue to forge elements that will invariably meet, and dispassionately subdue the artifice of men.
Jerilee Brimhall c April 2001. all rights reserved.