What Is the Tone in "The Convergence of the Twain" Poem?
Thomas Hardy's "Convergence of the Twain" is a memorial to the Titanic's sinking that does not sentimentalize or soften it, but uses the tragedy as an object lesson against man's inflated sense of importance. Its tone, far from sympathetic or sentimental, shifts from cold sarcasm to reverence, as Hardy turns from imperfect machinery to perfect nature.
A Tone of Sarcastic Anger
Five of the poem's stanzas use ironic juxtaposition to give a tone of scornful, if subdued, anger to the tragic setting. Hardy, unimpressed by the technology that built the craft, confines himself to its rich details and opulent appointments, all of which are useless. "Mirrors meant to glass the opulent" reflect "slimy, indifferent" sea-worms; her "steel chambers" which once housed "salamandrine fires" now hold "cold currents," while jewels "in joy designed" now "lie lightless ... bleared and black and blind." The sarcastic tone emphasizes the frightful waste of the wreck's once-magnificent exterior.
Tone Shifts to Reverence
The tone shifts in the sixth stanza, as Hardy finds something worth admiring: Nature, the Emersonian transcendence that Romance poets loved, here called the Will, the force that built the iceberg as men built the ship. Hardy's shift to reverence is also ironic, since the tone is both worshipful and apprehensive: "a sinister mate ... A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate." This is Nature to be feared as well as worshipped, created by the "Spinner of the Years" for an "intimate welding," a horrific marriage of ice and metal.
The Tone Shift Analyzed
The shift in tone from sarcasm to reverence is beautifully rendered, as Hardy uses enjambment between stanzas six and seven to weld together, literally and poetically, the ship, like a groom at a wedding, and its glacier bride. The joining creates movement for both poet and reader: the poet turns suddenly from the Titanic's "gilded gear" to the "gaily great" destroyer coming towards her. The reader, anticipating the clash, is invited, by the punctuation of each end-line, to pause in admiration, as ship, ice and verses collide. The coldly sarcastic tone is drowned, returning as a new warmth.
The Purpose of the Shift
Hardy, by his quietly angry tone, pours his scorn for the Industrial Revolution and its economic excesses into the first half of his poem. Having reached the limits of anger, he turns, like a diver submerging underwater, to a tone of admiration and worship of Nature, which outlasts man. The sinking -- a "consummation" that "jars two hemispheres" -- is a positive event, a wake-up call to turn man from egotism to a proper sense of belonging in the Will.
Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.