"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Friday, April 15, 2016


Molly Brown House Dining Room by Barbara Froula

Margaret / Molly Brown, and Family, At Home

Titanic Survivor

I delayed this Fortnightly post until the 15th (instead of the usual 14th) in honor of the RMS Titanic, which foundered 104 years ago today in the early hours of Monday, April 15, 1912. Thomas Hardy's 1915 poem "Convergence of the Twain" commemorates the tragedy by offering the perspective of a coincidence so vast in scope that mere mortals could not have anticipated the cosmic irony that would bring together Titanic and Iceberg:

The Convergence of the Twain
(Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")
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.

by Thomas Hardy, 1840 - 1928
English poet, novelist, and Victorian realist

Hardy expressed a similar determinism in 1902:

The Subalterns
“Poor wanderer," said the leaden sky,
“I fain would lighten thee,
But there are laws in force on high
Which say it must not be.”

--“I would not freeze thee, shorn one," cried
The North, “knew I but how
To warm my breath, to slack my stride;
But I am ruled as thou.”

--“To-morrow I attack thee, wight,"
Said Sickness. “Yet I swear
I bear thy little ark no spite,
But am bid enter there.”

--“Come hither, Son," I heard Death say;
“I did not will a grave
Should end thy pilgrimage to-day,
But I, too, am a slave!”

We smiled upon each other then,
And life to me had less
Of that fell look it wore ere when
They owned their passiveness.

As did American poet Stephen Crane in 1899:

The ocean said to me once,
Yonder on the shore
Is a woman, weeping.
I have watched her.
Go you and tell her this --
Her lover I have laid
In cool green hall.
There is wealth of golden sand
And pillars, coral-red;
Two white fish stand guard at his bier.

"Tell her this
And more --
That the king of the seas
Weeps too, old, helpless man.
The bustling fates
Heap his hands with corpses
Until he stands like a child
With a surplus of toys."

Stephen Crane, 1871 - 1900
American poet, journalist, novelist, short story writer

from The Black Rider and Other Lines
in War is Kind and Other Poems

In Hardy's poetry, "the Spinner of the Years" and "the Immanent Will," orchestrate human destiny and the course of nature; the Sky, the North Wind, Sickness, and even Death bear humanity no ill will and never act from malice but are themselves subject to "laws in force on high." Likewise for Crane, the "bustling fates" exercise power over "The ocean" and "the king of the seas" who, despite their watery palaces, are mere figureheads, helpless to stop shipwrecks and drownings. One slight tremor -- "at a fateful time - a wrong called" (see poem #VI) -- and chaos reigns.

With great sadness, Crane likens the many lost at sea to an overabundance of playthings, piling up unused, lost forever to their loved ones yet meaningless to the gods. Hardy notes the vanity and opulence of the wasted underwater treasure, envisioning the material wealth of the Titanic -- "jewels . . . sparkles . . . gilded gear" -- lying muddy and marred on the floor of the Atlantic.

Heroic shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, as portrayed by Victor Garber in the epic film, attributes the disaster -- somewhat differently than the poets do -- to "mathematical certainty." Some crew and passengers may incredulously insist that the ship can never sink; but Andrews responds with honesty and humility. Named by many viewers as "Best Scene in Titanic," his moment of truth stands out amidst all the sweeping drama and special effects:

"She's made of Iron . . . I assure you she can [sink]!
And she will. It is a mathematical certainty."


Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, April 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

No comments:

Post a Comment