The Convergence Of The Twain

What do you think about when you hear someone mention the Titanic? Do you immediately imagine a 1997 romance movie with a sad ending? Or do you think about the historical tragedy of a sinking ship, where 1,500 people drowned in freezing water? Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was alive when the Titanic sank, and he responded to the tragic event in his poem "The Convergence of the Twain" (1912). Far from a grieving, sentiment poem of empathy, Hardy instead critiques human vanity while also examining nature's power and the silent but unstoppable force of fate. 

The Convergence Of The Twain The Convergence Of The Twain

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Contents
Table of contents

    "The Convergence of the Twain" At a Glance

    Frequent analysis states that Thomas Hardy's poem describes the coming together, or "convergence," of the massive ship and the iceberg, which had been formed thousands of years earlier in the polar regions. Hardy describes the beauty and grandeur of the ship before its fateful encounter with the iceberg and contrasts it with the silent and indifferent iceberg. The poem ends with a somber reflection on the inevitability of the tragedy and the powerlessness of humanity in the face of fate. The title refers to the coming together of two forces: the Titanic and the iceberg.

    "The Convergence of the Twain" Summary & Analysis

    Author

    Thomas Hardy

    Publication Date

    1912

    Form

    Unconventional elegy

    Meter

    No formal meter, but the first two lines are shorter than the third in each stanza

    Rhyme Scheme

    AAA

    Poetic Devices

    Irony and juxtaposition, Personification, Allusion, Symbolism, Imagery

    Frequently noted imagery

    • Solitude of the sea
    • Steel chambers
    • Rhythmic tidal lyres
    • Sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent
    • Jewels in joy
    • Dim moon-eyed fishes
    • A Shape of Ice, The intimate welding

    Tone

    Critical, indifferent, shifting to reverent at the end

    Key themes

    The power of nature vs. humankind's vanity, and the unknowable status of fate

    Analysis

    The poem explores how humankind has a futile desire for control over the natural world, which will always be kept in check by humanity's inability to escape fate.

    "The Convergence of the Twain" Poem

    Below is Thomas Hardy's poem "The Convergence of the Twain" (1912) in its entirety.

    (Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")

    I In a solitude of the sea Deep from human vanity,And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.II Steel chambers, late the pyres Of her salamandrine fires,Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.III Over the mirrors meant To glass the opulentThe sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.IV Jewels in joy designed To ravish the sensuous mindLie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.V Dim moon-eyed fishes near Gaze at the gilded gearAnd query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?" ...VI Well: while was fashioning This creature of cleaving wing,The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everythingVII Prepared a sinister mate For her — so gaily great —A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.VIII And as the smart ship grew In stature, grace, and hue,In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.IX Alien they seemed to be; No mortal eye could seeThe intimate welding of their later history,X Or sign that they were bent By paths coincidentOn being anon twin halves of one august event,XI Till the Spinner of the Years Said "Now!" And each one hears,And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres."

    "The Convergence of the Twain" Summary

    The Titanic sits at the bottom of the sea, alone, far away from the proud, vain people who created her. She is unable to burn, but water rushes through her like music. Where mirrors once held the reflection of the extravagant, rich people who boarded her, now only ugly, indifferent sea worms crawl on the surface. All of the jewels and expensive things on the ship have lost their shine underwater, and the fish are left to wonder why all of this opulence lies at the bottom of the sea.

    "The Immanent Will" (18) that controls everything decided the Titanic and the iceberg were fated for one another long ago. They were mated: as the ship grew and became more extravagant, so too did the iceberg. They seemed so different, and human beings couldn't have predicted they would eventually meet. It was only when the two halves collided, as they were destined to, that people understood the fate of the Titanic.

    "Convergence of the Twain" Meaning

    "Convergence of the Twain" is ultimately about humankind's futile desire for control over the natural world and fate. Humans are constantly vying for control over every aspect of life. They build machines to manipulate nature, and study medicine to outwit life and death. Humans want to have control over the future to make their lives as easy, prosperous, and long as possible. The only problem is that they can't outsmart fate.

    The speaker argues that human inventions and control over nature are largely a product of their hubris. But fate has other plans that no human could possibly predict or stop. The Titanic is a manifestation of human arrogance and grandeur. It now sits at the bottom of the ocean as a reminder that humans are unable to overcome fate.

    "The Convergence of the Twain" Analysis

    Below is an analysis of "The Convergence of the Twain," looking at the author's background and the structure and tone of the poem.

    Author background

    "Convergence of the Twain" was written by English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy in 1912. After the tragic sinking of the Titanic on April 15, Hardy was asked to read a poem to help raise funds for the victims. "Convergence of the Twain" was first published in the program for that charity event. It is, however, far from an emotional, empathetic poem.

    The Titanic was a British luxury passenger ship that set sail on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. About 1,500 people died when it sank four days into the voyage from Southampton to New York. The ship was thought to be indestructible and unsinkable, but it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and sank within three hours. This famous tragedy inspired art, stories, films, and a musical.

    The Titanic was known for its luxury status and affluent passengers. Because it was largely a show of extravagance, the number of lifeboats on the ship was reduced in order to avoid clutter on the deck. The crew was also poorly trained, so when the lifeboats were launched, they were only about half full. As a result, only 31.6% of the people aboard the ship survived. The biggest disparities in survival rate were between gender and social status.

    Hardy was born in 1840 in one of the poorest counties in England. He grew up with very little and was unable to attend university due to financial struggles. He was often critical of extravagance and opulence for this very reason. When he studied architecture in London as a young man, he became even more aware of how wealth creates and reinforces social divisions. "Convergence of the Twain" critiques the excessive luxury and vanity of both those who built and those who were passengers on the Titanic. Interestingly, the poem doesn't speak to the loss of life or trauma of the event at all.

    The Convergence of the Twain, Titanic boat on the ocean, StudySmarterFig. 1 - "Convergence of the Twain" is about the sinking of the Titanic.

    Structure and Tone

    The poem is formatted into 11 neat stanzas, each marked with a corresponding roman numeral. Each stanza consists of three lines (tercets) that rhyme (AAA rhyme scheme). "Convergence of the Twain" has no formal meter. The first two lines in each tercet are followed by a significantly larger one that pulls the poem along like the tides of the sea.

    Although the poem doesn't explicitly name the Titanic, the epigraph at the beginning states "Lines on the loss of the 'Titanic,'" introducing the topic and hinting that the poem will have a sad, mournful tone. Contrary to the epigraph, the poem's tone is critical and distant when discussing the Titanic. It isn't until the speaker considers "The Immanent Will" (18) and the force of nature that the tone shifts to reverent and respectful.

    "The Convergence of the Twain" Literary Devices

    The main literary devices used in "Convergence of the Twain" are irony, juxtaposition, personification, allusion, symbolism, and imagery.

    Irony and juxtaposition

    Instead of depicting the Titanic as a tragic event, the speaker uses irony and juxtaposition in order to show the downfall of human folly and vanity. The sinking of the Titanic killed more than 1,500 people, but the speaker focuses on the material loss. The speaker says,

    II

    Steel chambers, late the pyres

    Of her salamandrine fires,

    Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres."

    III Over the mirrors meant To glass the opulentThe sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent." (4-9)

    He juxtaposes the fire that was supposed to power the ship's boiler rooms with the water that now flows through them. This imagery is also ironic because the chambers that were once meant for burning fuel and propelling the ship are now stationary and home to rushing water. Similarly, in stanza three, the speaker states that the mirrors designed to reflect the beauty of the ship's opulent elite now only reflect the slimy, ugly sea worms that crawl over it.

    Irony: a situation in which there is a contrast between what the reader or a character expects and what actually happens

    Juxtaposition: when two things are placed close together that have contrasting effects/images

    Everything that was expected for the ship—its powerful, indestructible, magnificent nature—was brought down and reduced to nothing. The Titanic is an ironic juxtaposition of human ambition, capability, arrogance, and nature's humble power.

    Personification

    The speaker uses personification to show the active, powerful state of nature. The speaker personifies the animals in the sea along with the boat and the iceberg. First, he focuses on the Titanic, referring to the boat as a "she" capable of action and thought:

    I In a solitude of the sea Deep from human vanity,And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she." (1-3)

    The Titanic "couches" as if she lies in wait. Her still, quiet form is contrasted with the fish that gaze upon her. These fish have more of a voice and are more respected than the humans referred to in the poem:

    V Dim moon-eyed fishes near Gaze at the gilded gearAnd query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?" ..." (13-15)

    The Convergence of the Twain, Blue fish underwater, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The fish ponder the wreaked Titanic at the bottom of the ocean.

    The fish are allowed to talk and even question human vanity, while the humans are not given any such agency. The speaker also personifies the iceberg and the Titanic, stating that they are "mate(s)" destined to be together. He says,

    VIII

    And as the smart ship grew In stature, grace, and hue,In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too." (22-24)

    He positions the boat and the iceberg as parallel forces. As one grows and becomes magnificent and enormous, so too does the other. The eventual union of these two fated objects reads like a wedding, joining two forces together. Instead of the tragedy that everyone views the Titanic as, the speaker argues that it was always fated and that human arrogance prohibited humans from considering the true power of the natural world.

    Personification: attributing human qualities (characteristics, emotions, and behaviors) to nonhuman things.

    Allusion

    The poem contains several allusions to the Bible, although it is far from a Christian text. The first allusion occurs in the opening stanza when the speaker discusses "human vanity" (2) and "the Pride of Life" (3). In Wisdom 14, the Bible references human vanity when speaking about the sacrilegious practice of worshipping idols (objects) instead of God. The Titanic functions as an idol of human achievement that humans vainly want to show off and worship. Likewise, John warns about "the Pride of Life" in his gospel (1 John 2:16), telling people to stay away from worldly objects because they distance humanity from God.

    Allusion: a figure of speech in which a person, event, or thing is indirectly referenced with the assumption that the reader will be at least somewhat familiar with the topic

    Later in the poem, the Titanic is presented as an ironic parallel of Jesus Christ, using the phrase "stature, grace, and hue" (23) and the word "consummation" (33). The Bible claims that Christ will return to earth during the consummation of the incarnate. With this in mind, it is ironic that the Titanic brought people to their death while Christ was thought to bring people to salvation and rebirth.

    While these allusions refer to Christianity and the Christ figure, they are used in order to show humanity's distance from God rather than their supposed salvation.

    Hardy was raised a Christian but slowly drifted away from the church, becoming agnostic. Do you see any reflection of that in this poem? What do you think he's saying about Christianity?

    Symbolism

    The two symbols in the poem are the Titanic and the iceberg. The Titanic is a symbol for human creation, vanity, and excess, while the iceberg is symbolic of the natural world and its innate power. Humanity and the natural world are deeply connected, but the two go toe to toe. While humans try to tame and control the natural world, nature prevails. The speaker says,

    VII Prepared a sinister mate For her — so gaily great —A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate." (19-21)

    The speaker mocks humanity when he refers to the iceberg as both a "sinister mate" and "gaily great." These juxtaposed lines reference the human tendency to position anything that doesn't naturally serve us as evil when in reality, it is unnatural and vain to believe everything should bend to humanity's will.

    Symbolism: one person/place/thing is a symbol for, or represents, some greater value/idea

    The Convergence of the Twain, Iceberg in the arctic, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The iceberg symbolizes the power of the natural world.

    Imagery

    The imagery in the poem highlights the power that the speaker believes nature holds over humankind. Nature eventually reclaims everything that humans stole or destroyed from it. Consider the imagery in stanzas three and four:

    III

    Over the mirrors meant

    To glass the opulent

    The sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

    IV

    Jewels in joy designed

    To ravish the sensuous mind

    Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind." (7-12)

    The imagery describes the natural world as ugly and dumb compared to human opulence and luxury. Ironically, though, the steady, humble power of nature prevails while the beautiful, artificial human-created objects lose their beauty and importance.

    Imagery: descriptive language that appeals to one of the five senses

    What are some of the other major instances of imagery? What effect do those sensory details have on the poem?

    "The Convergence of the Twain" Themes

    The two themes in the poem are the power of nature vs. humankind's vanity and the unknowable status of fate.

    The power of nature vs. humankind's vanity

    Throughout the poem, the speaker is critical of humanity's vanity. People build excessive, opulent things in order to show off how wealthy, connected, and successful they are. The speaker sees the Titanic as a superficial reminder of the wealth and power of the upper-class. Instead of having a meaningful purpose, the Titanic was created as a testament to humankind's hubris. People worshipped it like an idol, claiming it was completely indestructible. In their vanity, humans essentially likened themselves to gods who were capable of creating a perfect, unflawed creature that could never be destroyed.

    This vanity, however, is no match for nature's slow and steady power. When the Titanic is brought down by the iceberg, the superficiality of the boat is reclaimed by the natural world around it. Water rushes through the boiler room like "rhythmic tidal lyres" (6), sea worms wriggle over mirrors, and the fish alone gaze at the beauty of the jewels. The power of nature is humble and unassuming compared to that which people believe they hold, but it is constant and unceasing, while humanity's "power" is largely depicted as superficiality.

    The Convergence of the Twain, Sunken ship in the ocean, StudySmarterFig. 4 - The sunken ship is reclaimed by nature, showing nature's ultimate triumph over the artificial.

    The unknowable status of fate

    The poem discusses the union of the iceberg and Titanic in terms of fate, or what he calls "the Immanent Will" (18) and "the Spinner of the Years" (31). People like to believe they can outmaneuver fate, through planning, technology, and sheer will. In reality, though, they are just as subject to fate as the rest of the natural world.

    The Immanent Will is depicted as an indifferent, all-powerful deity that controls every aspect of life. Because humans are so limited in their knowledge of the future, the Immanent Will is completely unknowable to them. The speaker says,

    IX

    Alien they seemed to be; No mortal eye could seeThe intimate welding of their later history," (25-27)

    Fate moves in an unknowable, unpredictable way. This drives anger in humans because it makes them feel as though they are no longer in control. But, the speaker implies, they never had any control in the first place.

    The Convergence Of The Twain - Key takeaways

    • "The Convergence of the Twain" was written by Thomas Hardy in 1912.
    • It was written as a charity poem to help raise funds after the sinking of the Titanic.
    • Interestingly, the poem doesn't mention the tragic human loss at all. Instead, it focuses on human vanity and fate.
    • The poem critiques human hubris and desire for control over nature while also stressing that fate will never be able to be overcome.
    • The main themes are the power of nature vs. human vanity and the unknowable status of fate.
    Frequently Asked Questions about The Convergence Of The Twain

    What is the meaning and analysis of "The Convergence of the Twain"?

    "The Convergence of the Twain" is about nature overcoming human vanity and opulence during the sinking of the Titanic

    What are the two symbols in "The Convergence of the Twain"? 

    The two symbols are the Titanic and the iceberg. 

    What type of poem is "The Convergence of the Twain"?

    "The Convergence of the Twain" is similar to an elegy. 

    What is the tone of "The Convergence of the Twain"?

    The tone of "The Convergence of the Twain" is critical and indifferent, shifting to reverent towards the end. 

    What literary devices are used in "The Convergence of the Twain"? 

    The main literary devices are irony, juxtaposition, personification, allusion, imagery, and symbolism. 

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