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5 - Disastrous happenings

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Here's the next poetry comparison. Sorry these are both a bit grim (I thought of the Hardy after Seraphina's poems and the Larkin naturally followed), but I thought they made an interesting pair and hope you do too.


The Convergence of the Twain by Thomas Hardy


(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.



The Explosion by Philip Larkin


On the day of the explosion

Shadows pointed towards the pithead:

In the sun the slagheap slept.


Down the lane came men in pitboots

Coughing oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke

Shouldering off the freshened silence.


One chased after rabbits: lost them;

Came back with a nest of lark's eggs;

Showed them; lodged them in the grasses.


So they passed in beards and moleskins,

Fathers, brothers, nicknames, laughter,

Through the tall gates standing open.


At noon, there came a tremor; cows

Stopped chewing for a second; sun,

Scarfed as in a heat-haze, dimmed.


The dead go on before us, they

Are sitting in God's house in comfort,

We shall see them face to face -


Plain as lettering in the chapels

It was said, and for a second

Wives saw men of the explosion


Larger than in life they managed -

Gold as on a coin, or walking

Somehow from the sun towards them,


One showing the eggs unbroken.

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When i saw the heading for this pair of poems I was sure one of them was going to be McGonagall's 'Tay Bridge Disaster', :eek: Don't know if I'm glad or sorry :D


First thought, especially on reading the Hardy was of the picture by Landseer, "Man Proposes, God Disposes', of another icy wreck; the loss of Sir John Franklin's expedition to find the North West Passage.


Much as I like the notion of the monstrous vanity of mankind (embodied in the form of the Titanic) being brought to nothing by the forces of nature, my notion of God does not include the forward planning of a deliberate act of 'divine retribution' as is implied here.


Both poems, plus recent and current world events demonstrate the monumental self-deception of the human race in thinking we have supremacy over the natural world.


That's for starters, Will consider for a little longer.

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I've spent an interesting digression looking at both McGonagall's poem and Landseer's painting as I didn't know either - so thanks, Megustaleer. The McGonagall - well, I understand your dismay now! Is this possibly the worst poem ever written?? And yet such a tragic event. As for its conclusion - 'for the stronger we our houses do build/The less chance we have of being killed' - well, they don't write them like that anymore!!


However, the Landseer is a very different Victorian league - I must see the original! What an immensely disturbing painting. Its depiction of nature is so ferocious and unsentimental. And I can see the link to the Hardy. I agree with you about Hardy's view of God (or perhaps it's more that there is no God in the poem and it's more a paganistic view of Fate?) I don't really like the poem, although I think it is very interesting. What it lacks, I think, is any expression of grief. It's very moralising about human pride and vanity (which I agree is appealing), but it's worth remembering that Hardy lost two friends in the disaster, and yet there's no sense of that. It seems more about class (I know I keep coming back to that) - the wealth and opulence of the victims somehow makes them deserving of their fate?


Does anyone know Gerard Manley Hopkins' 'The Wreck of the Deutschland'? I would have liked to use this as my comparison with Hardy, but it's too long. As a Catholic priest, Hopkins uses his disaster (five nuns drowning when a ship sank in 1875) as an example of the ultimate power and wonder of the God he believed in. It makes an interesting contrast.


Unlike Hardy, the Larkin is all about the emotional impact and yet his inspiration was only a television account of the disaster. There is an incredibly powerful fondness for these working-class men and their lives in all their ordinariness. And also, oddly for Larkin who is not reknown for his religious sensibilities, a spiritual conclusion, I think. There is no moral message, as with the Hardy, but simply a final single line resolution of hope in the symbolism of the unbroken eggs. Or is it simply what the wives would like to hope? I suppose the eggs symbolise the potential for life and rebirth here? Larkin's view of nature is very different to Hardy's (and Landseer's).

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Have just noticed that both poems are written in triplets.

I'm finding the Hardy quite difficult to read as he seems to twist the language about in order to construct the verses.

There is a touch of the theme of 'Musee des Beaux Arts' in the Larkin...'Cows stopped chewing for a second'. A major tragedy for the mining community, but hardly noticed in the fields above the mine.


Still thinking!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am sorry I was away for a week and am still recovering!


I have just reread these poems and the Hardy reminds me of fantasy writing or something slightly mystical, the language twists around the subject and creates some wonderful images. I find it rather beautiful.


The Larkin seems much more rooted in reality and I find the image of the cows pausing and the sun dimming for a moment at the time of the explosion and then resuming their normal patterns very moving. It does again point out how what is momentous to one group of people means nothing at all elsewhere. Sad.


Sorry I'm not very good at this :o I think I prefer the Hardy.

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Reading the poems again, I am still interested in the fact that Larkin uses so much religious imagery. Even the men walking through the gates to the mine seem heavenly and they are made into martyrs by the light shining round them and the Easter imagery of eggs. I find this very sincere and moving - and yet I can't help remembering that Larkin was sceptical about religious belief.


I also noticed more obviously the gender references that Hardy uses. It's interesting that the ship is female while the iceberg is male and their union becomes almost sexual, a 'consummation'. Perhaps the gender stereotypes are obvious - the painted, vain ship being completely dominated by the powerful and rugged iceberg - but they are strangely effective. Is it marriage or rape?


I also like megustaleer's point about the triplets. Do these patterns of three somehow have more weight? Larkin uses them to break the pattern at the end so the final focus falls on the unbroken eggs, making that image even more powerful; Hardy uses them to build steadily to his climax - the 'consummation' again. Yet I agree that Hardy's rhythm can seem forced at times while Larkin's is much more relaxed and easy. I think Larkin engages me emotionally while Hardy only engages me intellectually.

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