Monday, September 7, 2009

The Iceberg That Sank The Titanic

Last night I watched a good TV documentary, The Iceberg That Sank The Titanic. It gave pictorial images to the concepts in Thomas Hardy’s great poem about the event.

The Convergence Of The Twain

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.

Thomas Hardy

From snowflakes that settled while humanity was still in its stone age a great ice-sheet was formed in Greenland. As it reached the sea great chunks calved to form ice-bergs. There was stunning footage of these happenings. Photographs of the sea-floor revealed huge gouges where the ice had stuck, scraped and scarred. Historic film showed the ship’s construction and launch in Belfast and its maiden voyage sailing from Southhampton.

Most icebergs melt before they enter the shipping lanes. Some get stuck along the Newfoundland coast because most of the volume is under water. I did not realise they tumbled because the underwater melt of the ice makes the ‘berg top-heavy. In 1912, however, this large one was in the path of the Titanic.

Apparently the decision on sighting the ‘berg to go to starboard was a mistake. Head-on would have crumpled the bow and caused considerable chaos and damage on board. But with its waterproof compartments the ship would have survived. As it was the ice ripped along the keel and water poured into the compartments. It sank with a huge loss of life. Modern underwater images of the sunken ship reveal what Hardy had imagined – marine life.

By coincidence, Anne and I earlier had watched The Antiques Roadshow. A man brought in some mementoes of his grandfather. He had been a sailor and sailed on the Titanic’s fateful voyage. In charge of a lifeboat he survived.

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