“Titanic” by David R. Slavitt
The short poem “Titanic” by David R. Slavitt was written in 1983, long after the shipwreck of “Titanic”. The poem is not about the disaster of “Titanic”; in Slavitt’s poem, this ship and story about shipwreck is merely a symbol, which hides another broader meaning. In this essay, the meaning, symbols, and style of this poem will be researched.
From the main point of view, it is the poem about death. It is not about deaths of 1,490 people, who died together with “Titanic”, but about the death, which is impending for every person. However, the poem is about beautiful and glorious death among luxuriance and delicacy; it is about the epic death, which will be famous in poems, and story in a great film.
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The meaning of Slavitt’s poem reminds the mood of “Age of Jazz”, the mood of the “lost generation”. At that time, people were frustrated because of the awful World War I, which had taken millions of human lives. The hidden idea of the “Age of Jazz” was as follows: “The disasters and death are much closer than we think. Thus, let us rejoice and enjoy life today because tomorrow we all die in any way”. It was the epoch of frustrated and disappointed people, who did not know how to live further and tried to hide their fear in funny jazz music, easy time, drinking, debauchery, and promiscuity. The idea of the “lost generation” is related to the idea of the poem “Titanic”. “To go down…We all go down” (Slavitt, 2013). According to the author, it means that we are all mortal, we all will die in any way, and therefore, why we should fight for life if we all die in any way? Is not it better to die now and beautifully? “But with crowds of people, friends, servants, well-fed, with music, with lights” (Slavitt, 2013). The stories about “Titanic” are not the stories about the passengers of the ship, about their lives, achievements, families, feelings, relations, and dreams. These stories are not about how they lived, but about how they died.
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The style of the poem is ironic. It is not a Gothic poem, hence, such admiration of the beautiful death in the poem, written at the end of the XX century, appears to be a pure irony. It is shown just in the first sentence of the poem: “Who does not love the Titanic?” I think David Slavitt does not mean the Titanic as a luxury ship with a comfortable stateroom and ideal service. He tells about the story of “Titanic”, the story about the shipwreck, disaster that caused many deaths: the story, which got a halo of romanticism, the blaze of glory. He asks: “Who does not love the Titanic?” but this question sounds as: “There are many reasons not to like the story of Titanic”.
It is obvious that the target audience of the poem is modern people, the author’s contemporaries. He ridicules the vanity, selfishness, and vainglory of the people, who are ready to buy a ticket on the famous “Titanic”, even knowing that it will be sunk. As for me, the main idea of the poem is in the first two strophes:
“Who does not love the Titanic?
If they sold passage tomorrow for that same crossing,
Who would not buy?” (Slavitt, 2013).
From the objective point of view, the last question is illogical and stupid: why should any right-minded buy a ticket to kingdom come? But it is the author’s irony. Indeed, the question is about people’s vanity. A lot of people are even ready to die if it brings them the undying glory:
“To go down…We all go down, mostly
Alone. But with crowds of people, friends, servants,
Well-fed, with music, with lights! Ah!” (Slavitt, 2013).
Here, the author says about the most frightening aspect of anility and natural death – loneliness. Why do you need to live long (and maybe difficult and not interesting) life if you can die with crowds of friends and servants? You can die like an ancient pharaoh, like an emperor – not in a clinic room, but in light and to music, surrounded by troops of servants and crying people. The whole world will know about your death, you will become a legend, the movies will be made, and the books will be written about you! And all men will weep with emotion! Indeed the following strophe, in particular, the last row, looks like a deep irony:
“There will be the books and movies,
To remind our grandchildren who we were,
And how we died, and give them a good cry” (Slavitt, 2013).
In addition, Slavitt emphasizes the people’s callousness: almost every day we hear about wars and disasters but thousands of deaths is mere statistics for us, not more.
“And the world, shocked, mourns, as it ought to do and almost never does” (Slavitt, 2013).
In addition, the author promises quick and euthanasic death: “The cold water is anesthetic and very quick” (Slavitt, 2013). As for me, it is about something similar to cowardice – we all want to live long and happily and to die quickly and painlessly.
Still, in the last phrase, Slavitt says that such unity and glamorous death is affordable only for rich people. While “Titanic” was sinking, the first-class passengers had more chances to escape. Thus, one of the problems arisen in the poem is the question of social stratification. Who does really remember the names of one and a half thousand people, who drowned with the “Titanic”?
Therefore, the poem “Titanic” by David R. Slavitt is about death. Again, in ironic style, the author tells about vanity, selfishness, vainglory, cowardice, and the problem of social stratification.