Sunday, 11 April 2010

Footnote on Hardy




People at times of tragedy tend to say, 'We must make sure this never happens again' as if they had any control of words such as 'sure' and 'never'. Then there are the conspiracy theorists, their conspiracies just gathering speed. Conspiracies of Russians, of the EU, of the USA, of Al Qaeda, from Machiavellians of all descriptions. It is strange, of course, straight after the Katyn events. Another forest, more fog, more Polish bodies, but I am not a Machiavellian. My instincts whisper it is a miracle that more disasters do not happen. At such times I tend to think of poems like this.


The Convergence Of The Twain
(Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")

I
In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

II
Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

III
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls--grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

IV
Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

V
Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?". . .

VI
Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

VII
Prepared a sinister mate
For her--so gaily great--
A Shape of Ice, for the time fat and dissociate.

VIII
And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

IX
Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.

X
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one August event,

XI
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

- Thomas Hardy

Whether the Immanent Will, aka The Spinner of the Years, is the product of a conspiracy theory, of course, remains an open question. But the sense of ninety-six dead (possibly ninety-seven), many of them the leading figures of a nation, all at once, in one room, in a historically hostile space, cannot help but impinge on the consciousness as more than a simple error on part of man or machine.

However, the fact that it so impinges is not a factor in the odds on or against simple error, including the simple error of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. An inch this way or that has always been part of human life. Sure and never have never made much sense to me, within my very narrow, personal sense of 'never'. Even conspirators are subject to it. The sea-worm and the Shape of Ice are factors.

Canst thou draw out Leviathan with an hook? asked God of Job.

Sometimes, yes, Job might have answered, and sometimes no.



4 comments:

Billy C said...

I think this one, George, leaves little room for conspiracies. Put simply, it was down to expediency. Land in Georgia with all the problems that would have created in getting to Katyn in time for the ceremony, or take a chance of landing in the fog. I believe the last pilot who made Kaczynski divert was not a happy chappy afterwards. We've all done it at some time: sacrificed safety for expediency. Unfortunately, sometimes, it goes wrong. This is one of those times.

George S said...

I suspect you're right, Billy. It sounds all too feasible. But that won't stop the conspiracy theorists. Disasters are cocaine to them. I have seen at least four variations.

A fellow student of mine at art college, several centuries ago, once remarked that the whole universe had to be run either by God or by the CIA.

He hadn't considered the KGB or, more likely still, the WI.

Poet in Residence said...

The 'Flying Coffin' (as it was affectionally called pre-disaster) was between 30 and 40 years old; Not exactly state of the art for foggy landings in Russia. They should have flown Ryanair, like what most of us have to do.

George S said...

Ah, the Michael O'Leary flying portaloo. I have been a customer of the legendary O'Leary several times. Ryanair is the best possible mixture of charabanc, bingo hall, service station, third-class galley, and prison. I do believe they are thinking of charging customers a £1 a time for the portaloo part.