The Convergence of the Twain
For those of you too young to remember, we'd like to grace you with a memorable Titanic performance. Yes, we're crying too, probably due to Celine Dion's passionate chest pounding, or maybe it's Leo's dreamy eyes. Anyway, we digress—but not too much, since "The Convergence of the Twain" (published in 1915) is about that same iconic ship that crashed into an iceberg in 1912. Although Thomas Hardy refrains from chest pounding, we can still sense a similar visceral connection to the kinds of mysterious and lonely emotions that must have been running rampant for the folks who went down. No matter if it's Celine Dion or an English poet, we're dealing with a story that people are still fascinated and moved by so many years later.
The cool thing about Hardy's take is that his focus is more on the ship and the iceberg than the unfortunate folks who went down. His speaker works with the actual parts of the ship that were built within the same timeframe that its "sinister mate" (the iceberg) was growing too. So we get this foreshadowing surrounding the entire construction of the ship and the ominous, inevitable threat of nature itself.
Even better, we get to see the sunken parts of the ship that include jewels, mirrors, and steel chambers that all look eerily lifeless beneath the sea. Suddenly all of man's glory and vanity that went into building the ship become little more than useless things that sea-worms crawl in and out of. In a way then, we get to see man's creation as a kind of artifact that nature curiously observes, rather than the other way around. And who doesn't like to see "dim moon-eyed fishes" checking out a huge hunk of steel wondering what in the world it is?
Hardy's speaker avoids getting overly sentimental about the crash itself. By focusing on natural forces and a sort of mysterious "Immanent Will" that drives everything together, we get to imagine the Titanic with the same curiosity of the fishes. And yet the solitude of the sea and the lifeless objects that lie beneath remind us of the loneliness we might feel if we ever found ourselves in similar circumstances.
Why Should I Care?
1912 was a long time ago, but still there's something surrounding the actual circumstances of the Titanic's crash that we can't help but feel intrigued by. Thomas Hardy's poem only serves to make that intrigue even more palpable by putting the mystery right out there in the open for us to observe like curious fish.
There's something much deeper going on in "The Convergence of the Twain" than just a boat crash. It involves man's vanity, which winds up at the bottom of the sea looking lifeless and kinda silly. After all, pretty jewels and mirrors are as useless as they come once their only companion becomes an indifferent sea-worm. So what's left once our pride and glory rest with the fishes and cease to impress anyone?
Hardy's speaker leaves all that open for interpretation. But if we were to venture a guess right here and now, we'd say that what's left are the kinds of things we might value besides pretty jewels and trinkets. In other words, what we end up with after all of the jewels and mirrors are gone is simply who we are and what we value beyond all of our "stuff." The tragedy of the Titanic reminds us of how fragile our existence really is and that we ought to look for more meaningful experiences beyond pretty jewels and trinkets.