William Fain Roby on Hardy’s “Convergence of the Twain”

May 16, 2011

I love “Convergence of the Twain” because it is both terribly flawed and intensely frightening.

Hardy’s poem is not the steel chambers, the currents, the moon-eyed fishes. Hardy’s poem is not even the gilded gear, or the vaingloriousness—as he probably wanted it to be. “Convergence of the Twain” is, in fact, the sea-worm, crawling “grotesque” and “slimed”, though Hardy’s description of the worm as “dumb” and “indifferent” is hardly appropriate. I think we can cleave that off, chalk it up to his lack of a cutting room floor.

Had the executors of Hardy’s estate not burned his letters and notebooks, we may have more insight into those two little words, those nagging things that hold the poem back. Any middle of the road workshop worth its salt would have led Hardy to cut those vagueries—the worm’s presence in the poem is what brings me back to it time after time. The worm is hardly “indifferent,” though he may in fact be “dumb.” That’s the fault of his biology.

Hardy, who famously argued that “Peace is poor reading,” gives us very little of it in “Convergence of the Twain.” From the (admittedly overwrought) “salamandrine fires” of the foundries that stitched the Titanic and the “shadowy silent distance” of the Atlantic ocean, we are forced to swallow a picture of the wreck of the Titanic that is at once capital-N Natural, small-n natural, terrifying, even Calvinist. Forget the sweet pink cheek of the movie star, or the grip of the blonde boy stowaway—forget the murky algae-swamped submersibles shining lights across “the mirros meant / to glass the opulent,” this is the picture of the Titanic I love: a ship that grows in “stature” and “grace” like the boy Christ in his great Lost Weekend. Stately, sharp, tragic, terrified.

BIO: Will Roby is a poet and playwright from Texas. His poems have appeared at Stirring, Carte Blanche, anti-, and Tri-Quarterly.

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