Essay Subjects: Poetry, Shows and Events. Keywords: Hardy’s poems, impersonality of Hardy, Convergence of the Twain, present tense, heavy use of caesurae, Hardy’s confessional work, current situation of The Titanic
The form and structure of “The Convergence of the Twain” are very much unlike many of Hardy’s poems, a possible response to the scale of his commitment to writing publically or perhaps simply an exploration of form to try and convey his own views, slightly antithetical in themselves, on the disaster. The poem is divided into eleven heroic triplets, self-containing the stanzas with the rhyme scheme, and leaving the poem in an isometric form- possibly highlighting the impersonality of Hardy’s view on the events.
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Furthermore, these structurally static, contained triplets do not possess the natural speech rhythms caused by the heavy use of caesurae and changes in line length that exist of many of his more personal poems. This process of technique enacting meaning leads to poems like “The Voice” and “Neutral Tones” possessing a much deeper, heartfelt message as a result of the effervescent lines, “Saying that now you are not as you were” and the heavily accented pauses that convey effect and depth- “Thus I; faltering forward/Leaves around me falling”. This contrast in personal poetry having a more heartfelt feel and the public has a more stagnant, artificially composed nature suggests the impersonality of the public against the deeply confessional verse of the personal, and the lack of pronouns and simple lack of recognition of the dead in “The Convergence of the Twain” in contrast to the consistent “I” and “You” in the personal works adds to this feeling.
A further comment that can be made on the form of the structure of “The Convergence of the Twain” is the way that tense is portrayed in the poem, and how this contributes to its effect as well as how it contrasts or identifies with Hardy’s confessional work. The “The Convergence of the Twain” has a clear division between tense, and furthermore, this division is also key to the narration of events and the dynamic aspects of the narrative. Stanzas I-V are written entirely in the present tense, as Hardy describes the current situation of The Titanic- “Steel chambers, late the pyres/Of her salamandrine fires/Cold currents thrid, and turn to tidal lyres”- the ship itself is passive against the metaphor of the music of the “tidal lyre” sweeping over it, and the “cold currents” that employ the neologism of “thrid” to explain the meaning of their power over the once pristine ship.
This passive stasis of the poem could highlight Hardy’s indifference to the loss of those who are described as “the opulent”, or the simple fact that the ship is now at the bottom of the ocean, at the mercy of the greater forces that Hardy discusses and references with such vigour in stanzas VI-XI. In stanza VI, the tense changes upon the heavily accentuated caesura of “Well:”, and Hardy proceeds to actively describe the events that contributed to the Titanic’s downfall- “The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything/Prepared a sinister mate”, exemplifies this through the stanza wide enjambment highlighting the unstoppable nature of the “Will”, and the “stirs and urges” adding to dynamism of the poem.
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This idea of a clear definition between tense is one that occurs much more sparsely in works of direct importance to Hardy, as his verse of this type often blurs the boundaries between tense to highlight the distinction or lack of distinction in his memories and the contrast and confusion between the past and present. Examples of this include lines in “The Voice”, “Saying that now you are not as you were”, and the recounting of memory through the present description in “At Castle Boterel”, “Myself and a girlish form benighted/In dry March weather.
We climb the road”, with this contrast intense highlighting the contrast in feeling in “The Voice”, and the distinction of the memory being so clear in Hardy’s mind in “At Castle Boterel”, whilst also presenting the idea that the past and present are irreconcilable in their difference. This is reaffirmed through other examples, such as the repetition of ideas from one tense in a separate verse and tense, like “But cannot answer the words he lifts me” of the present and “When I could answer he did not say them” of the past, taken from the alternative perspective of a female lover, assumedly his wife, in “The Haunter”. This depth of memory or lack of it gives Hardy’s personal accounts a more relevant, current and permanent nature, whilst the pure distinction intense of “The Convergence of the Twain” gives it an isolated, less impacting feel- this notion of apathy and irrelevance towards the grandeur of the public disaster contrasting greatly with the deep contemplation and almost cursed confessions found in Hardy’s self-portraying poetry.
Finally, the imagery and language of “The Convergence of the Twain” allow Hardy to fully explore and portray the grander premises that he feels are relevant to the isolated event, and how the event, in his eyes, should be viewed. Throughout the first five stanzas of the poem, Hardy uses images of antithesis to portray the starkness of contrast between the elitist desires embodied in the Titanic’s building, and the fateful, inauspicious end that befell it. Hardy describes the supposedly unsinkable “steel chambers” as “late the pyres/Of her salamandrine fires”, suggesting that they came from a source of death, juxtaposing the “Pride of Life” in the Titanic with its almost mythological, fiery “salamandrine end”.
This opposition is furthered with the idea of “Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic, tidal lyres”, as if the lyrical omnipotence of nature has encompassed man’s hubristic and arrogant “Pride of Life”- this comparison through capitalisation of this “Pride” with the “Immanent Will” and “Spinner of the Years” elevates man’s ambitions to that of the Gods- a God-given privilege that is ironically punished by the Gods themselves. This comparison of elitist desire with parity of insignificance in death and desolation continues through “Jewels in joy designed/To ravish the sensuous mind/Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind”, the most sexually desirable “ravishing” gems reduced to cold, dark shadow, emphasized by the harsh, monosyllabic sounds of “black” and “blind”. The insignificance of the ship in its “solitude of the sea” is exemplified in the next stanza, with even the common fish commenting on the “vaingloriousness”, Hardy using a neologism to show that man’s desire for greatness, and its subsequent inherent capacity to fail is reduced to mere trivia for one of the most common, stupid creatures of the world.
This use of antithesis, juxtaposition, and contrast to highlight contrast in positivity and negativity, particularly in varied tense, is commonly employed by Hardy in his private poems, as well as its vehement usage in the opening part of “The Convergence of the Twain”. Examples of this include the brightness and clarity of memory in “Even to the original air-blue gown” against the bitter, indifference and “listlessness” of the breeze in “The Voice”, the opposing images highlighting the contrast of the prior happiness and passion between Hardy and a lover against her debatable existence of the present.
Another example is in “At Castle Boterel”, with Hardy using pathetic fallacy to contrast the “Dry March weather” in which he “And a girlish form benighted” against the “unflinching rigour” of Time and the “rain” of the present. This consistent use of opposed imagery to enact effect shows that Hardy remains consistent with his usage of literary techniques, but applies them to a different extent- the gravitas and harsh opposition of the public “The Convergence of the Twain” allow the public to appreciate the visceral nature of the Titanic’s sinking and Hardy’s clinical, impersonal interpretation, whilst the subtle confusion and blending of tense of his more private works heightens the personal depth of Hardy’s thoughts and allows the reader to appreciate his confusion.
Finally, the closing six stanzas of “The Convergence of the Twain” take a wide-ranging, anecdotal tone, alongside the introduction of the omnipotent, invincible nature of the natural contrast to the hubristic desires of a man previously described. Hardy utilizes metaphors to emphasize the enduring opposition between the entities of man and nature and emphasizes this by introducing wider themes of the male and female, and the less wide-ranging but equally important antithesis of ship and iceberg.
Hardy contrasts the human ambition of the “creature of cleaving wing” against the power of the fated “Immanent Will”, that prepares a “sinister mate”, intertwining the themes of male and female, man and nature, and ship an iceberg. The stanza wide enjambment of “The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything /Prepared a sinister mate” also emphasizes the unstoppable nature of Time, the power of the stanzas aligning the power of the “Higher Forces”.
This tone continues with “The intimate welding of their later history”, the oxymoronic nature of “intimate welding”, the non sequitor of intimacy possibly highlighting Hardy’s lack of compassion for events, or simply adding to the underlying theme of eternal verities and their opposition. This continues in the closing stanza of the poem, “Till the Spinner of the Years/Said “Now!” And each one hears,/And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres”. The personification of “the Spinner of the Years” adds to its power, and the simplicity of “consummation” and the ambiguity of “two hemispheres” suggest that Hardy is removing all horror and myth from the event- to him it is a collision of enduring forces, and nothing more.