Hardy and the Titanic
On 15 April 1912, the RMS TITANIC sank in the early hours of the morning after colliding with an iceberg in the Atlantic ocean. It was a British passenger liner on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2224 passengers and crew on board, 1500 lost their lives, making it one of the most horrific peace-time maritime disasters in history. Built by Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, it was the largest ship afloat in the world at the time, and its architect, Thomas Andrews, was one of the victims.
Thomas Hardy penned 'The Convergence of the Twain', one of his most enduring poems, in aid of the Fund set up for the survivors and the families of the deceased. In a letter to Florence Henniker dated Sunday 21st April 1912 Hardy wrote: '...I was thinking – the immediate cause of the thought being the disaster to the Titanic, in which I have lost two acquaintances – that we feel it such a blow when friends go off before us, as if we were never going ourselves at all: when the same journey is only postponed for us by a few years.'
Michael Millgate and Richard Little Purdy, editors of the collected letters of Hardy, note that one of these acquaintances was social campaigner and journalist W.T. Stead, they don't conjecture as to who the other person may be.
'The Convergence of the Twain' was published in the Fortnightly Review in June 1912, 'in aid of the bereaved ones' as Hardy wrote to Mrs Henniker on 22nd May.
The Convergence of the Twain (Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")
By Thomas Hardy
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 far 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.