Sunday, April 15, 2012

"What does this vaingloriousness down here?" ... the Titanic, 100 years later

2010-08-22-IMG_9481One hundred years ago, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sunk. Since then, there has been a wealth of stories, movies, and legends about the ship and its passengers (those lucky and those not).

(ship model at left from the Maritime Museum, Halifax, Nova Scotia)

My own little pet peeve about depictions of the ship are in the smoke funnels. There were four on the ship, but only three were functional - attached to the three boilers - the third provided symmetry and balance to the profile of the ship. And yet in  most depictions of the ship, there is smoke pouring forth from all four. From the illustrations in the recent Smithsonian Magazine story to the multi-million dollar James Cameron film from the 1990s the clearly depicts four stacks of smoke as the ship departs Southampton!

Still, for all the words written on the ship, the most eloquent statement on the tragedy was from Thomas Hardy, whose poem, "The Convergence of the Twain", was published just months after the loss:

The Convergence of the Twain
(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 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.

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