David R. Slavitt’s “Titanic”

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Titanic

Who does not love the Titanic?

If they sold passage tomorrow for that same crossing,

who would not buy?

To go down…We all go down, mostly

alone. But with crowds of people, friends, servants,

well fed, with music, with lights!Ah!

And the world, shocked, mourns, as it ought to do

and almost never does. There will be the books and movies

to remind our grandchildren who we were

and how we died, and give them a good cry.

Not so bad, after all. The cold

water is anesthetic and very quick.

The cries on all sides must be a comfort.

We all go: only a few, first class.


Wining and Dying:  An Analysis of “Titanic”

Approximately twenty years ago, many people turned their attention toward the infamous Titanic disaster.  Hollywood created a film based on the event, and interest grew in the minds of children and adults.  About ten years prior to that, David R. Slavitt published his poem “Titanic” that suggests a less popular philosophical notion.  This poem, while reminding a general audience of a tragic event, posits that humans would be inclined to knowingly die on a ship such as the Titanic and meet a similar fate.  In short, his speaker declares, there does not seem to be a more exciting and rapid method of inevitable death.

“Who does not love the Titanic?” opens this poem.  The speaker begins casually, as if beginning a conversation over coffee.  Before the end of the opening stanza, a hypothetical situation is stated.  Should people be offered to board the ship bound for certain peril, our speaker believes only logical thinking individuals would take that opportunity.  Later, the speaker reminds us—rather directly and grisly—that “[w]e all go down, mostly/alone.”  Immediately afterward, though, he reminds us that the elegance of the ship cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.  This notion continues throughout the poem.  While a vast majority of people do not get to decide their own method of death, the speaker is suggesting a utopian demise.

To further his case, the speaker offers predictions of the aftermath of this hypothetical death.  While it seems obvious any given person would like to be remembered or honored upon their death, the speaker takes it a bit further.  He states that the world would be “shocked” and that “books and movies” would “remind our grandchildren who we were/and how we died, and give them a good cry.”  This brutally honest vision of a deceased observing those left behind, it seems fair to say, is something the speaker believes is universal.  What, he might be saying, is the point of living if no one will remember anything we did?

To finish the dismal view of death, the speaker reminds us that perishing in the cold waters of after a ship crashes into an iceberg.  If one must die, should not the rapidity be an appealing factor?  The line “The cries on all sides must be a comfort” might disturb a reader, but it does offer a vision that makes death a little easier to accept.  The final line, as it should, summarizes this speaker’s perspective.  “We all go” could not be more direct and obvious.  “[O]nly a few, first-class” is perhaps his advice to the reader.  Death is inevitable, so why not enjoy it?  It seems like the obvious choice.

Slavitt’s poem touches on the popularity of the Titanic and the unpopularity of death.  Poets have long evaluated this final moment of life and have, for centuries, suggested advice or commentary on our mortality.  Slavitt’s angle is refreshing and deceivingly persuasive.  No one who ever reads this poem or this analysis will escape death.  Thus, if given the opportunity, we would most likely like to die in an elegant manner and be remembered generations afterward.

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