15 April 2012

National Poetry Month: 15

One hundred years ago today the Titanic sank, as you might have heard. A few months after the tragedy, Thomas Hardy published the following contemplative commemorative lines, which concentrate on larger philosophical themes of Fate and Nature versus Humanity (Fate and Nature win) rather than on the individual suffering of particular passengers. I find the poem very powerful; there is something very touching about the silent underwater incongruity of the ruined luxury liner, the indirect evidence that people once hoped and dreamed and built, not realizing how in vain their efforts were. Hardy gives a timeless air of myth to the event, with Nemesis in the shape of a ghostly frigid mountain of ice moving to its predestined collision. But of course even the concepts of Fate, Nemesis, the Immanent Will, and the Spinner of the Years are human creations, designed to impose order on chance happenings and the unknown mysteries of our world.

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.

– Thomas Hardy

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