Who can raise great men when they fall
or dare stand to catch them as they do?
25 June 1989
RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in the early morning of 15 April 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. It’s probably the first thing you thought of when you read this poem unless, like me, your favourite artist is the Belgian René Magritte. In 1928 he produced a painting which became known as Les Jours Gigantesques. In English this is generally translated as Titanic Days. Of course The Gigantic Days would work too and that’s exactly what Google Translate suggested but type in ‘gigantesques’ on its own and the following alternative are offered: immense, oversized, outsized, monstrous and mountainous. When you see the painting you might agree that Monstrous Days might be a better title but that’s the problem with translation.
The original title Magritte gave to the painting was La peur de l'amour (Fear of love) but, as he wrote to his friend and Belgian Surrealist colleague Paul Nougé, he was dissatisfied with this and asked for Nougé's assistance in finding a better one. Nougé suggested L'aube désarmé (Dawn disarmed) which Magritte has inscribed on the back of the work only to later delete it in favour of the definitive title which was thought up by another of his Belgian Surrealist friends and colleagues, Louis Scutenaire.
This is a poem about my dad. It was written at a time when my father, whom as a child I had idolised, was tottering. His fall was imminent or maybe by this time he’d already fallen; I forget. No, the fall took place years before and only its revelation was to come only the world never got to find out; his reputation was allowed to remain intact because what good would come from telling the truth? At least that was the prevalent reasoning at the time and I went along with it.
In Titanic Days only part of the picture is revealed. The image of the man could almost be a tattoo on the woman’s body. Like a tattoo a true picture of my father formed in my head over many years and I know for a fact it’s unfinished but I’ve seen enough. Enough’s enough.