21 May 2013

Analysis of 'The Convergence of the Twain' Simon Armitage OCR English Literature GCSE Poetry Exam

'The Convergence of the Twain' stops time - immediately after the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11. It begins in strange silence, with airy, elegantly formal language - 'architecture of air', the alliteration emphasising the open emptiness of the vowels - the nothing, where the literal, 'architecture', once was - now catastrophically gone. 'Here is', is ironic - the definiteness of, 'here', and the present tense, 'is', relate to something that is not here any longer. This is a stanza of absence: 'nothing stands'. In this image it is as if the sudden nothingness of the World Trade Centre is so traumatically vivid that it has become a thing that can, 'stand'. The final phrase, 'free sky, unlimited and sheer' is almost onomatopoeic. Fricatives, liquids and long-vowels open up a vast, empty sky. The word 'free' could suggest freedom - suddenly the sky is free of the man-made towers, symbol of human, and American dominance, now brutally swept away. It also suggests references America as 'the land of the free' - now under attack.

The roman numerals at the start of each section give a classical, elegiac feel to the poem, separating each set of sense impressions into elegant sections. Half-rhymes and odd rhymes create weird echoes (air/cleared/sheer - bruise/soothed/wound and phones/Dow Jones) that give a strange resonance to the slow, funereal style. Each stanza is short at three lines, with one thought per stanza, as if thoughts come jerkily - are disconnected as if it fades to black between each scene. This echoes the experience of trying to make sense of the attack - through flashes in short sentences: 'land lines are down.' 'Reports of ... are false' and the single, vivid, horribly specific image of 'one excoriated Apple Mac still quotes the Dow Jones'. It feels fragmented, and the subjunctive is used to show the hopelessness of the hope some had after the attack. Armitage focusses on posters of 'faces' - 'as if they might walk ... - chosen spared'. The word 'chosen' has religious connotations - implying it would be a miracle - for any to be specially chosen. To be 'saved' implies its reverse - damnation, and the too-brutal separation of humanity into those who are saved and those who are not. The spiritual dimension could suggest the religious element of the jihad at the root of the attack, and also the desolation that so few were spared - begging the question, how could God let this happen?

Plosives in 'passenger plane beading an office block' creates the sudden violence of the impact - but in retrospect, as this is recalled in 'hindsight'. It's a memory like aftershock, that keeps on reverberating.

I've run out of time here! There's a lot more to say:
'convergence of the twain' is archaic, formal language, as if this is a classical poem - worthy of history. 'Convergence' usually means things coming together, which suggests togetherness in a positive sense, so it's ironic that this 'coming together' is a violent, destructive act. Coming together is meant ironically as this act was the beginning of a catastrophic geopolitical divide.

Where Armitage says 'time and space contracted' it's as if the act of violence is so huge it's cosmic, extending into four dimensions. The grand, zoomed out scale fits the elegiac tone and words like 'worlds apart' highlights the irony of this 'Convergence'. On screen, in the attack, the buildings seemed to drop softly - seemingly in slow motion, even before the endless replays. Armitage moves from the vast to the tiny 'thinned to an instant', emphasising how suddenly things can change so dramatically. Words like 'grace' and 'framed' suggest an elegant slowness, of mercy (horribly), and shift with 'furious' pace into 'earth and heaven fused' - in a monstrous collision of two things that should never touch. The jihadist tilting at heaven crashes the soaring peaks of man's ambition into the earth: taking thousands of people with it.