The Convergence of the Twain

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"The Convergence of the Twain (Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")" is a poem by Thomas Hardy, published in 1915. The poem describes the sinking of the ocean liner Titanic on 15 April 1912. "Convergence" consists of eleven stanzas (I to XI) of three lines each, following the AAA rhyme pattern.[1] [2] [3]

History and themes[edit]

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.[4]

One interpretation holds that Hardy's controversial poem contrasts the materialism and hubris of mankind with the integrity and beauty of nature. This is said to be done in an almost satirical manner given the absence of any compassion, or even reference, towards the loss of life that accompanied the ship's sinking.

The reader might expect to see evidence of grief, a depiction of the chaos or an emotive telling of individual losses. However, Hardy’s The Convergence of the Twain does not follow these unspoken expectations. Instead, the poem focuses on the ship and the iceberg and how the two came to converge.

Seen as the epitome of Britain’s wealth and power, the Titanic was extravagantly decorated for many of the elite figures of Britain and America in the period and, as a streamline piece exhibiting the new technology and fashions of the day, the Titanic was supposedly unsinkable in the eyes of its makers. Peter Childs describes the Titanic as “full of Edwardian confidence but bound for disaster”[5] and it is this display of vanity and pride that Hardy sardonically highlights in the first five stanzas as he contrasts the ship’s current position in the Atlantic to its glory days where no expense was spared. By juxtaposing expensive items like the “jewels in joy designed” with their position now where they “lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind” (IV, 12), Hardy emphasises the waste of riches produced from the Titanic’s failure.

At the beginning of the sixth stanza, there is a definite shift where Hardy goes from looking at the ship’s past and present to discussing the cause of the disaster, the collision of the ship and the iceberg. The pairing of the two or the idea of a pair is constructed before the poem even starts. In the title, ‘Twain’, the archaic word for ‘two’ is used, generating the idea of a pairing, with the most obvious pair being the ship and the iceberg.[6] From the sixth stanza onwards, Hardy’s lexis suggests that the ‘convergence’ of the two forces was predestined, an unavoidable event premeditated by some hidden, uncontrollable force which is indicated in phrases like “The Immanent Will” (VI, 18) and “the Spinner of Years” (XI, 31). The unspoken force Hardy suggests is nature, and the pairing of human technology and nature can be seen quite clearly in the poem with all the new technologies of humans set against the bigger force of nature. Hardy discusses that whilst the Titanic was being built, nature too “prepared a sinister mate” (VII, 19) and, in the next stanza, Hardy creates a sense of menace in the lines “And as the smart ship grew/In stature, grace and hue/In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too” (VIII, 22 – 24).

Whilst critic Chris Baldick claims Hardy’s The Convergence of the Twain “alludes to a philosophical stance” and that it “carefully refrains from moralizing”, fellow critic Donald Davie claims the poem “very markedly censures the vanity and luxury which created and inhabited the staterooms of the ocean liner” therefore suggesting Hardy does moralize. [7] [8]

The unspoken expectations of the poem are left unfulfilled because rather than give the reader comfort, someone to blame or emotive stories of passengers, Hardy leaves the reader with an overwhelming sense of insignificance as it depicts mankind’s best piece of technology being overcome by nature, showing that humans will always be subject to nature who is unsympathetic to the “human vanity” (I, 2) and “Pride of Life” (I, 3).

Related works[edit]

Simon Armitage also wrote a poem called "The Convergence of the Twain", describing the events of 9/11 and mimicking the style of Hardy.

In 2012, composer James Burton conducted the world premiere[9] of his new composition The Convergence of the Twain, a setting of the Hardy poem, at the St Endellion Music Festivals in Cornwall, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.[10][11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Human Fallibility in Thomas Hardy's "Convergence of the Twain" (April, 1912)". victorianweb.org. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "“The Convergence of the Twain”: Thomas Hardy’s “Titanic”". eraofcasualfridays.net. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Dabbler Verse Convergence of the Twain". thedabbler.co.uk. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  4. ^ Shin, Jung Min. "An Elegy to the Titanic versus a Lesson Learned - Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain" and Slavitt's "Titanic"". academia.edu. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  5. ^ Peter Childs. The Twentieth Century in Poetry: A Critical Survey. Routledge: London, 1999. p10
  6. ^ Adrian Beard. Texts and Contexts: Introducing Literature and Language Study, Routledge: London, 2001. p20
  7. ^ Chris Baldick. The Oxford English Literary History: The Modern Movement, 1910 – 1940 Vol. 1. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2005. p81.
  8. ^ Davie, Donald. Thomas Hardy and British Poetry. Routledge: London, 1973. p11.
  9. ^ "Endellion Easter 2012 Festival Programme" (PDF). Retrieved 17 January 2012. 
  10. ^ "2012 St Endellion Programme" (PDF). Retrieved 6 February 2012. 
  11. ^ "St Endellion Festival on Visit Cornwall site". Retrieved 6 February 2012. 

External links[edit]