“There fell upon the ear the most terrible noise that human beings ever listened to – the cries of hundreds of people struggling in the icy cold water, crying for help with a cry we knew could not be answered.” – Ruth, Titanic survivor

On the night of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic of the White Star Line hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank, killing 1,517 people, due to not enough lifeboats for all the passengers (and numerous other perfect-storm conditions).

For me, it is not so much the sinking of the ship that is the horrifying thing to contemplate (although that is definitely awful). It is the aftermath (described so vividly in the title of this post by “Ruth”): 1,500 people thrashing about in freezing ocean, miles and miles from anywhere, with lifeboats full (or half-full) of people bobbing nearby, listening to the sounds of the death throes.

Thomas Hardy wrote a poem about Titanic called “The Convergence of the Twain”. The title alone brings a chill of dread.

The Convergence of the Twain
by Thomas Hardy

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 great Irish poet Derek Mahon (wrote a little bit about him here) wrote a brilliant poem about J. Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line, who, famously and infamously, survived. Much to his enduring shame. Most employees were manly enough to go down with the ship. Not Ismay. The scandal dogged him the rest of his days.

After the Titanic
by Derek Mahon

They said I got away in a boat
And humbled me at the inquiry. I tell you
I sank as far that night as any
Hero. As I sat shivering on the dark water
I turned to ice to hear my costly
Life go thundering down in a pandemonium of
Prams, pianos, sideboards, winches,
Boilers bursting and shredded ragtime. Now I hide
In a lonely house behind the sea
Where the tide leaves broken toys and hatboxes
Silently at my door. The showers of
April, flowers of May mean nothing to me, nor the
Late light of June, when my gardener
Describes to strangers how the old man stays in bed
On seaward mornings after nights of
Wind, takes his cocaine and will see no one. Then it is
I drown again with all those dim
Lost faces I never understood, my poor soul
Screams out in the starlight, heart
Breaks loose and rolls down like a stone.
Include me in your lamentations.

And The Self-Styled Siren outdoes herself with a post on The Titanic, in three movies.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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7 Responses to “There fell upon the ear the most terrible noise that human beings ever listened to – the cries of hundreds of people struggling in the icy cold water, crying for help with a cry we knew could not be answered.” – Ruth, Titanic survivor

  1. Hokahey says:

    Sheila –

    Thank you for this post. My Titanic obsession began when I was very young and first saw the 1953 Titanic with Clifton Webb and Barbra Stanwyck on television. This was before the days of VCRs so, in order to see the movie again, I had to scour TV Guide – desperate to watch it whenever it was on TV. My obsession continued with books and the 1997 film, which I saw twice that December it was released, and then once a month for four more months. I saw the re-release last week. One of the biggest thrills in my life was going to that traveling Titanic exhibit in San Francisco and touching a piece of the hull!!! I think I’ll commemorate Titanic by watching the old movie – despite its historical inaccuracies – and time it so that it hits the berg at 11:40 EST tonight.

  2. Éanna Brophy says:

    No doubt your friend will know all about Fr Francis Browne SJ and his photographs taken aboard the Titanic. He sailed from Southampton to Cobh (then called Queenstown) and was offered the chance to complete the voyage but his superiors wired him “Get off that ship”, thus saving his life – and his photos for posterity. Read more here http://www.titanicphotographs.com/

  3. debra t says:

    I am a life long obsessive. I’ve passed it on to my son. He became obsessive when he was 3. It’s a sad night tonight. The sounds of the souls in the water-those were their family. I cannot imagine it.
    I took care of a patient who had a real postcard that was sent from the Titanic. He considered it a good luck piece during his medical treatment. I took care of him the whole time he was there so I could see the card and talk Titanic stories with him.

  4. Nice collection of stuff. I especially liked the Hardy poem.

  5. Fiddlin Bill says:

    The poetry and music of the 14th of April: https://youtu.be/mjX2ztmjLk4

  6. Debra T says:

    5 years ago I posted on this post. My son is still obsessed. I’ve passed it in.

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