Monday, April 23, 2012

Final Thoughts on the Titanic

At the time of its sinking, the Titanic represented what everyone considered the pinnacle of human achievement in transportation in style.

In fact, the Titanic was a late example of a fast-dying means of travel: within a couple of decades, you could cross the Atlantic by airplane on a regular commercial flight, arriving in hours rather than days. Writing about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, three years after the Titanic went down, author Diane Preston noted that what sank the Lusitania -- a submarine -- was in fact the technological achievement with far greater significance. By the end of the Cold War, nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines were the superpowers' sharpest claws.

Thinking of the Titanic and the communities and cities most affected by the sinking (Belfast, Southampton, New York City), I remembered a poem by Seamus Heaney, which seemed evokative, even though Heaney wrote these lines about a different topic. (A note of explanation: the river that runs through Belfast and into the Irish Sea, is the River Lagan). Out of context, these lines might allude to the haplessness of the doomed passengers aboard the great ship, which might just as easily have slipped past all icebergs and arrived safely in New York City:

It's twenty to four
On one of the last afternoons
Of reasonable light

Smell the tidal Lagan:
Take a last turn
In the tang of possibility