The Convergence of the Twain
A Ship Sunk by the Overwhelming Weight of Human Vanity
In his poem “The Convergence of the Twain,” Thomas Hardy describes the unfortunate, yet truly inevitable, sinking of the supposedly invincible Titanic. Concurrently, the poem depicts humanity’s vain struggle against the steadfast forces of nature. The poem’s structural organization as well as diction and figurative language convey the speaker’s disapproving attitude towards man’s hubristic creation of the Titanic.
The poem’s arrangement into rhyming tercets as well as further division into three distinct sections based on an inverted chronology reflect nature’s absolute influence over the inevitability of the Titanic’s crash. Each tercet is composed of two trimeters such as “In the solitude of the sea / deep from human vanity” (1-2) and one hexameter such as “and the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she” (3). The addition of the three syllables from the first line and the three syllables from the subsequent line add up to the six syllables found in the third line, mimicking the convergence of the ship and the iceberg. Furthermore, consistent end rhymes such as “pyres” (4), “fires” (5), and “lyres” (6) contribute to the smooth, flowing rhythm of the stanzas, creating a wave-like pattern that reflects the poem’s setting. Additionally, stanzas one through five describe in media res the aftermath of the Titanic’s crash using imagery of the ship at the bottom of the sea and “deep from human vanity” (2), reinforcing the idea that the ship was destined to fail from the moment of its inception. In this way, stanzas six through eight, which describe the “fashioning / of this creature of cleaving wing” (16-17), as well as stanzas nine through eleven, which portray the actual crash when the ship and the iceberg “were bent / by paths coincident” (28-29), merely become retrospective flashbacks of an ultimately failed endeavor. Together, the poem’s structure and special chronology mirror the destined “Convergence of the Twain,” man and nature, reminding readers of God’s formidability and omnipotence.
Through diction and somber imagery, the poem emphasizes the speaker’s critical tone of humanity’s naive and hubristic belief that it could best nature by constructing the ostensibly indestructible Titanic. The Titanic was once the greatest luxury ship ever built, boasting “mirrors meant / to glass the opulent” (7-8). Now, “the sea-worm” (9), a “grotesque, slimed, dumb, and indifferent” (9) creature crawls on the once lavish mirrors, the negative connotations of these words underscoring the power of luxury to make humans ignorant. Furthermore, “jewels…designed / to ravish the sensuous mind” (10-11) currently “lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind” (13), reflecting how the hubristic humans allowed their vanity to control them, then ultimately regretted their pride when the Titanic crashed and their “gilded gear” (14) and “vaingloriousness” (15) were left behind to be enjoyed only by “dim moon-eyed fish” (13) who have no use for such equipment. Blinded by pride in this seemingly unsinkable creation, humanity failed to respect the forces of nature, resulting in a tragic loss.
The ironic oppositions set up between the ship and the iceberg by manipulating connotation and denotation further substantiate the complete futility of man’s arrogant challenge against God. As the Titanic, a luxury cruise liner, “grew / in stature, grace and hue” (22-23), the iceberg grew in the “shadowy silent distance” (24), creating a stark contrast between the ship’s prideful extravagance and the iceberg’s modest simplicity. Moreover, the paradoxical diction of describing the iceberg as the Titanic’s “sinister mate” (19) sets up the conceit of the ship and the iceberg as destined to meet. Their collision, portrayed as an “intimate welding” (27) when “consummation comes” (33), is a pun on a wedding and its sexual intimacy. Most significantly, this “one august event” (30) is mediated by the “Spinner of Years” (31) and “Immanent Will” (18), alluding to the intervention of some divine power to predestine this tragic occurrence. The ironic theme of marriage between the ship and the iceberg expresses that no matter how large or how strong humanity built the Titanic, it was fated to collide with the iceberg and sink.
The poem’s symbolic structure, imagery, diction, and figurative language highlight the speaker’s critical attitude of man’s foolish challenge of God’s power. The Titanic, the largest and strongest ship of all time that was originally engineered and advertised to be unsinkable, was bested during its maiden voyage by a simple and avoidable iceberg. This tragedy not only represents man’s loss against nature but also serves as a future reminder for all of humanity to keep its pride in check.