Hardy’s lines on the loss of the Titanic…

I’ve not really followed the saga of the Titanic centenary in Belfast. What I’ve read or heard about the local commemorations has been generally positive, and whatever misgivings I may have about the efficacy of the considerable public investment in the project, the loss of 1500 souls within a few hours is well worth the remembering.

It’s been big news in other places far from Belfast. Dorset, Hampshire and the Port of Southampton have also been remembering the many stories of those who perished and those who survived. And it’s a Dorset poet and novelist who wrote some of the most evocative lines on the subject and what it has come to mean within the human imagination:

The Convergence of the Twain

Thomas Hardy (1912)

 (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 fat 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.


  • Nice to see others catching up.

    Of course, there was a previous, recent link to just that. And, only yesterday, the BelTel was pointing the way to go.

    There’s a decent critique here. For those who despise lit. crit., it is to be hoped you picked up, unaided, the sub-text (see Dean’s final sentence, in the last-but-one paragraph). And then ruminated on the eros/ thanatos thing that Hardy had — presumably — picked up from the recently-tranlated Freud.

  • Or even “translated”.

    For a really juicy story, try Freud’s translator, James Strachey and his various relationships in and out of the Bloomsbury set (which, swinging one way, included mountaineer George [Leigh-]Mallory, JM Keynes and Rupert Brooke).

  • Wouldn’t be a poet’s choice, Mick: certainly not Hardy’s finest hour. But then, commemorative or journalistic or occasional verse usually brings out the worst in poets – just check with the UK’s poets laureate passim….

    How and ever, readers should see if they can find Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s ‘Sinking of the Titanic’ (excerpts here) or indeed Derek Mahon’s brilliant short poem on the afterlife of Bruce Ismay, now called ‘After the Titanic’.

    And to float my own iceberg, the loss is present in the background of all subsequent losses at the Yard, even this.

  • Sorry, links didn’t paste in, I think. Will repair when
    I get to a proper non-mobile device!

  • Hardy seems to rattled this one off for a charity memorial in May, 1912 — so the original (the version above is somewhat re-worked) was virtually extempore.

    Simon Armitage did a re-tread on Hardy for 9/11. That link is to a BBC site, (to my mind) worth the visit and the comparison. To Armitage, the “convergence” is both physical and cultural. Consider the conclusion:

    Then time and space
    contracted, so whatever distance
    held those worlds apart thinned to an instant.

    During which, cameras framed
    moments of grace
    before the furious contact wherein earth and heaven fused.

  • cynic2


    You haven’t followed them? How have you avoided them? We are awash in them and in elderly American tourists wandering the streets in genuine (TM) Titanic memorabilia. And sue its great to see them – but roll on 2013

  • ” Douglas Hurd quoted the poem and used “A shape of ice” VII as a title in one of his novels. Llike all his novels well worth a read.

  • articles @ 6:13 pm:

    Some months back, coming onto Piccadilly from Green Park station, I found myself close behind a good broadcloth overcoat. It contained Baron Hurd of Westwell, now in his 80s, and moving at some pace.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, its not the four quartets Martin. but I like it for the very extemporary character it has. And any poet that can work in dissociate quite so elegantly does it for me.

    Like II and III; whilst the final stansa is beautifully and powerfully compressed. Id be happy to produce a blog with such meaningful compression.

  • Malcolm Redfellow

    I know him only from his printed word, fiction and non fiction, and his political life: seems to me a decent civilised man. May I suggest you and he would get on well.

  • If it’s not Four Quartets, it ought to be the fourth section of The Wasteland

    Death by Water

    Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
    Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
    And the profit and loss.
    A current under sea
    Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
    He passes the stages of his age and youth
    Entering the whirlpool.
    Gentile or Jew
    O you who turn the wheel and look windward,
    Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

    That’s variously assumed to somehow reflect on the Titanic disaster , especially the profit and loss, and/or the sinking of the Britannic.

    Or, alternatively, it’s elegiac for his dead friend, Jean Verdenal, killed serving as a medic in the Dardanelles campaign. (the 1920 collection was dedicated To Jean Verdenal 1889-1915).

    Or, again, it’s derived from St Paul (Gentile of Jew.

    In any case, it’s a reworking of the end of his early Dans le Restaurant

    Right, you squeezed Old Toilets (anag.) in, and students are supposed to explicate such stuff. So, for something a bit tougher, your starter for ten:

    What on earth (or sea) did Dylan mean, if anything, in Desolation Row:

    Praise be to Nero’s Neptune:
    Titanic sails at dawn;
    And everybody’s shouting
    “Which side are you on?”
    And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot
    Fighting in the captain’s tower,
    While calypso singers laugh at them,
    And fisherman hold flowers,
    Between the windows of the sea
    Where lovely mermaids flow
    And nobody has to think too much
    About Desolation Row.

  • Mick Fealty

    Martin, without breaching copyright, and chance of a highlight fromMahon?

  • Mick Fealty @ 10:55 am:

    Noel Duffy blew the copyright already: try here.

    When that poem went onto the Leaving Cert, it was done over by various “help” sites. I think this is as good as any.

  • Malcolm Redfellow. God and Dylan alone knows what Bob was on about, but might have had something to do with what he was on. That was the penultimate verse wasn’t it?
    I know all ten of by heart.

  • ardmajel55 @ 6:37 pm:

    All ten? And I thought I had anorak tendencies.

    I’m surprised nobody’s cat has dragged in The Wreck of the Titanic by Scotland’s finest, William Topaz McGonagall. This is a truly remarkable piece of doggerel, not least because McGonagall had been planted in Greyfriars Kirkyard a decade the event it commemorates. [It is actually by Dave Gittins, and dates from 1st April,2000.]