Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“The Convergence of the Twain” directly questions the significance of this maritime disaster. Hardy chooses not even to mention the drowned victims, the monetary losses, or the grief of the survivors; for him, the important element is the tragedy in the Greek sense, the inevitable bringing down of humans with too much pride in their own powers. Just as all Greek tragedy is ironic, with heroes unaware of their folly until too late, so this poem explores the ironies of people doomed because of their overweening self-confidence. “Human vanity” and “Pride of Life” ultimately lead to a downfall both literal and figurative.
Hardy saw the supernatural forces in the universe as at best indifferent to human suffering, and at worst—as in this poem—arranging events to demonstrate to humans how powerless they are. Ultimately, even the best-planned and most technologically advanced human efforts to conquer nature are at the mercy of these forces.
Furthermore, the “Immanent Will” prepares a “mate” for the ship, the “welding” of ship and iceberg is “intimate,” and their collision is a “consummation”; the shipwreck seems like a marriage in the supernatural scheme of things. This line of development raises further questions about how the supernatural forces regard humans: One usually expects marriage to be a happy conclusion, not a tragic one. The marriage here, however, as inevitable as any romantic cliché could make it, is a destruction of life instead of a celebration of continuing life.
In this poem, then, the significance of catastrophe is its demonstration of human powerlessness in the face of nature and supernatural forces. Like many of his contemporaries, Hardy could see little evidence of divine benevolence in the universe, and the wreck of the Titanic served as one more incident confirming this view.