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.
The Consequences of Hubris
Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain” tells of the events that lead up to the sinking of the Titanic through its collision with an iceberg, while on a deeper meaning, highlighting the tragic consequences of the hubris of mankind. Through opposition and diction, the speaker criticizes the human race for succumbing to hubris and attempting to become greater than God.
The once-magnificent Titanic is left alone and isolated on the lonely seafloor in ruins with no human life to be found, suggesting that the vanity and hubris of mankind is the cause for the Titanic’s tragic end. The Titanic’s being disconnected from “human vanity” (2) and the “Pride of Life that planned her” (3) at the bottom of the ocean underlines that man’s hubris has consequently led to the downfall of the Titanic. The imagery of the scene is a sharp contrast to the once lively and grand Titanic. The “cold currents” (6) that have replaced the “salamandrine fires” (3) in the ship are an example of sensory language that highlight the absence of life and the warmth that accompanies it through fireplaces and lights. A series of oppositions are also introduced, emphasizing the lifelessness of the shipwreck: mirrors meant “to glass the opulent” (8) and reflect human beauty are crawling with grotesque sea worms, and jewelry and treasures “lie lightless” (12) on the surface without their former shine. The fishes’ question “‘What does this vaingloriousness down here?'” (15) implies that the riches of the Titanic seem out-of-place on the gloomy seabed, hinting that the tragedy of the Titanic could have been avoided if man hadn’t been overcome by hubris and ambition to create something as impressive as the Titanic. Through opposition and imagery, the speaker highlights how mankind’s ambitions can be reduced to nothing if overcome by hubris.
An iceberg is created by a divine being to parallel the building of the Titanic, reflecting that the ambitions and creations of man can never surpass the power of nature or God. The decision of the “Immanent Will” (18), which may represent God or the forces of nature, to create a “sinister mate” (19) for the Titanic foreshadows the collision of the ship and the “Shape of Ice” (21), as the diction in the words “sinister mate” imply that the iceberg is meant to be joined in partnership with the Titanic. This idea of the Titanic and the iceberg being destined to collide with each other is further developed as the speaker mentions that the iceberg grew as the “ship grew / in stature, grace and hue” (22-23), showing the two objects as equals. The iceberg’s creation in “shadowy silent distance” (24), however, opposes the creation of the Titanic, which was widely popularized by man around the world; nature’s rather secretive and low-key building of the iceberg demonstrates the power of nature, as wealth and popularity is not needed for nature or God to create the giant iceberg. By describing the secretive creation of the iceberg through a flashback, the speaker shows readers the events that led to the sinking of the Titanic while showcasing the superior power of God over the hubristic mankind.
The iceberg and the Titanic are forced to collide with one another, implying that they were fated to crash together and prove the superiority of God and nature. With “no mortal eye” (26) being able to recognize the fated collision of the Titanic and the iceberg, the idea of divine intervention is suggested, as humans only thought that the iceberg and the Titanic only “seemed to be” (25) alien and unrelated. The description of the collision as an “intimate welding” (27) is a pun; while the ship and the iceberg are forced to be welded together in the crash, they are also wedded like a husband and wife through marriage, showing that they were meant to be together. The iceberg and the Titanic being two “anon twin halves” (30) also demonstrates the inevitability of the catastrophe, as they complete each other like “two hemispheres” (33) of the earth. The command of the “Spinner of the Years” (31), another name for the “Immanent Will” (18), that finally joins the Titanic and the iceberg in their “marriage” highlights the power of the divine, as the being is able to control the fate of the Titanic and the iceberg, unlike the condescended man. The personification of the Titanic and the iceberg and their intimate “wedding” reflect the “convergence” in the title of the poem, as they join together as one through their destined collision.
“The Convergence of the Twain” tells of the catastrophic downfall of the Titanic and how the events that led up to the tragedy were influenced by divine intervention. Through the poem, the author provokes readers to avoid falling to hubris and suffering the same fate as the Titanic..
The Vanity of Humanity
Thomas Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain” describes the events leading up to the sinking of the Titanic as well as the aftermath; however, on a deeper level, the work explores the theme of the conflict between man and nature. These opposing forces demonstrate the superiority of nature, as it is the vanity of man that brings about the tragedy of the Titanic. Through juxtaposition, diction, figurative language, and opposition the speaker’s critical tone toward mankind is established, reinforcing the idea that humanity brought this disaster upon itself.
The juxtaposition of what the ship once was and how it is now at the bottom of the ocean highlights the critical tone of the speaker, suggesting that humanity’s vanity is powerless against the forces of nature. The final resting place of the ship being in the “solitude of the sea / Deep from human vanity / And the Pride of Life” (1-3) highlights the conflict between man and nature, implying that although mankind can build extravagant and massive machines, they cannot master nature. The speaker describes the “mirrors meant / To glass the opulent” (7-8) now covered in “sea-[worms]… – grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent” (9), emphasizing the irony that these once extravagant mirrors, a symbol of man’s vanity, now lie on the bottom of the ocean covered in vile sea creatures. Only the “Dim moon-eyed fish” (13) can now “Gaze at the gilded gear” (14) and question “What does this vaingloriousness [at the bottom of the ocean]” (15), reflecting, through this verbal irony, the futileness of man’s hubris against the power of nature and God. Thus, all that mankind creates to fulfill his own vain desires are useless in nature, reflecting the conflict between man and nature.
The diction and figurative language emphasize the inevitability of the disaster, reflecting the one-sided conflict of man versus nature and the critical tone of the speaker. While the Titanic was being built, “The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything / Prepared a sinister mate” (18-19), suggesting, with the pun on “immanent” with “imminent,” as well as the ominous diction and the personification of nature, that this disaster was unavoidable since nature itself had created the iceberg in response to the Titanic. The speaker describes that “As the smart ship grew / In stature, grace, and hue, / In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too” (22-24), reinforcing the idea, through foreboding diction, that the iceberg came about in response to mankind’s hubris in creating the so-called unsinkable ship. Thus, humanity brings this disaster upon itself because it was only because of man’s vanity that nature was forced to create the iceberg.
The opposition of the hubris of man with the omnipotence of nature reiterates the critical tone of the speaker toward man, reinforcing the idea that the disaster was fated to occur and reflecting the title of the poem itself. To mankind, the iceberg and the Titanic seemed “Alien” (25) to one another since “No mortal eye could [foresee] / [their] intimate welding” (26-27), yet they were on “paths coincident” (29); the pun on the word “welding” with “wedding” as well as the opposition of what little mankind can see with the omniscience of nature criticizes man’s nearsightedness and hubris, suggesting that the ship and the iceberg were fated to become one, forming a relationship similar to marriage. Mankind had believed in its vanity that it had built a great, unsinkable ship, yet all it took to destroy it was “the Spinner of the Years” (31) who only had to say the word “And each one [heard], / and consummation [came], and [jarred] the two hemispheres” (32-33), highlighting the idea that these two awesome creations were meant to become one, as the title suggests, and all it took was for nature to say the word. Thus, the speaker establishes the superiority of nature and the futileness of man’s hubristic qualities; no matter what man had done to avoid the disaster, it would have been powerless against the forces of nature.
The ultimate culmination of mankind’s vanity, the Titanic symbolized humanity’s hubris. Rather than an emotional tribute to the many passengers that lost their lives in this tragedy, Thomas Hardy uses this poem as an indictment of humanity, blaming mankind as a whole for this disaster. Hardy hopes to convey to the reader that man tends to lose sight of his place in the world and that he is no match for nature or God, and in doing so, Hardy hopes to prevent such an occurrence from happening again.