Central Idea: In the poem “Nantucket” by William Carlos Williams, the use of verbs emphasizes the feeling of relaxation. This poem was written in 1934. The setting in this poem was in Nantucket which is a famous vacation city in Massachusetts, United States. The central idea of this poem is relaxation which the narrator feels during his vacation in the clean hotel. In the poem, it said, “Flowers through the window / lavender and yellow / changed by white curtains–” (1-3). Here, the white curtains make the colour of the flowers softer. Therefore, the feeling of relaxation was created. Another example of use of verb that can be seen in the poem was “a key is lying” (9).

The word ‘lying’ help us to visualize that the narrator sleeping on the bed as the key is ‘lying’. Moreover, The word ‘lying’ has a similar meaning to ‘sleeping’. Interestingly, at the end of the poem is talk about the white bed. Hence, lying was introduced before the narrator talk about bed to emphasizes the sense of comfort from sleeping on the bed.

Summary / Analysis

“Nantucket” by William Carlos Williams is a short lyric poem of five two-line stanzas which vividly describes a room, presumably on the Atlantic island of Nantucket, off Massachusetts. The poem consists entirely of imagistic phrases, noting the flowers through the window, the sunshine, a glass tray, a glass pitcher and tumbler, a key, and finally “the / immaculate white bed.” It reads like a verbal still-life, painterly in its precise rendering of things seen and adding to sight another sensual appeal: the “smell of cleanliness.” Similar to Williams’s more famous “The Red Wheelbarrow” in its sharp focus and love for what is ordinary, the poem, within its own small frame, is richly coloured and shaped. It creates a clean, fresh, airy intimate space, beginning with the enticing and benedictory view from a window and ending, as if inevitably, at a bed, which seems equally luminous and inviting. The poet’s palette is limited but lush: lavender and yellow set off by white, the colour that sunshine takes on in late afternoon, and the translucent no-colour of glass. This is a vision of pleasure: composed, quiet, secure, anticipatory, reminiscent of some imagined painted room by (17th century Dutch painter) Jan Vermeer before the people have entered it, or an eroticized interior by the modern French painter Henri Matisse. Here is a poem of unswerving objectivity and directness, a poem seemingly without an “I” or any other protagonist, and yet the poem nonetheless proclaims gladly the subjectivity of the eye, which can glean secret meaning from the very surfaces of objects, from their casual proximity to each other, from their compositional interactions.

The poem exemplifies Williams’ affinity with the modernist school of Imagism, which extolled the economical use of vocabulary, concentration, rhythmical individuality, the determination to present “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time” in the memorable phrase of the poet Ezra Pound. “Nantucket” resists symbolising the contents of the room it portrays. Yet the poem as a whole could be said to be a metaphor that suppresses its own tenor, allowing the vehicle to speak clearly and suggestively. Like the standard Japanese literary style, haiku, the poem restricts its subject matter to an analytical definition, which nevertheless evokes a definite, although unstated, emotional reaction. Williams has often been beguiled by a similar discipline of suggesting a very great deal in the fewest possible words, and he has chosen ordinary words from spoken American English. In this poem, he declines even the ambiguous commentary of lines like “So much depends / upon,” or “these things / astonish me beyond words,” which leaven the strict Imagism in two other of his small poems (“The Red Wheelbarrow” and “Pastoral,” respectively).

Williams’ stanza form was not inherited but finely enhanced by his close personal involvement with the subject. Each of the “Nantucket” stanzas consists of two lines of almost equal length. Each of these lines contains two or three accented syllables, which are light yet chiselled, casual-looking, but composed. At first, the lines emjamb to the nouns and adjectives of the strong definition, but to line 8 ((which ends with the pronoun “which”), and line 9 (ending with
the phrase “And the”), enjambment to the less weighty terms induce anticipation in the reader of the most emotionally loaded poems: the key and the bed.

Three devices that contribute to the delicate, brilliant sound and feel of the poem are the four aerated white spaces between the stanzas, the dependence solely on the dashes for internal punctuation, and the absence of any closing punctuation. This last one leaves the feeling that there is still something to tell about “the / immaculate white bed” that has been so beautifully introduced by the mid-line, upper-case “And”—itself introduced by one of those breathless dashes. The poem consists of six noun sentences, subjects that pledge to lead to verbs, and then do not, postpone all action to beyond or after the poem, and thus rivet the reader’s attention to the items at hand while raising the sense that there is more than the eye meets, and more that could be conveyed. The poem relies heavily on prepositions – through, by, of, on, by – that reveal to the reader’s visual imagination the compositional integrity of the work despite its teasingly incomplete sentences.

Rather than the directness of rhyme, Williams uses smaller, more subtle sound repetitions to weave his poem
together, to give it supple form. “Yellow” echoes “window” in the first stanza, as do the “er” endings of “flowers” and
lavender.” Alliteration works its understated way through the poem: curtains/cleanliness, tray/tumbler/turned. In a poem devoid, in true Imagist fashion, of superfluous words, the repetition of the word “glass,” tying together stanzas three and four, speaks emphatically and reminds the reader of the capacity of glass to catch and reflect light. In a poem built primarily of quiet, forward-moving iambics, the ending spondee of “white bed,” impresses the reader’s ear with its sudden substance. The insistence on words indicating cleanliness indicates the poet’s yearning for a romantic experience both passionate and wholesome, both voluptuous and chaste, purged of guilt and capable of expressing full joie de vivre.

Williams resisted symbolism because he felt it too readily and perfunctorily gave up the thing itself for an imposed or imported meaning. But here the window, the key, the bed, the glass all declare the beauty and particularity of their physical forms – their ideal reality, their radiant thingness. This has the paradoxical effect of renewing the symbolic depth and urgency of these objects as potent indicators of intimacy, chosen attributes of a room that will declare its emotional character if only the reader attends to it as devotedly as does the poet.

“Nantucket” reads as a humble list of things etched out with such care that taken together they add up to a poem
spoken by a lover in anticipation of a rendezvous, who savours everything associated with this most significant afternoon.

With great delicacy, the poem declines to mention either the beloved or the self or to speak in what is usually considered the language of emotion. A setting only is described, without the characters, without the action, like a set design revealed for admiration before the action of the play begins. The “setting” is a bedroom of surpassing beauty and privacy (in a cottage guesthouse on Nantucket, high summer?), as yet untouched, all in readiness, redolent of its own imminent moment of romantic intimacy, passion, and fulfilment. Like a white page, that white bed awaits its inevitable story. The flowers “changed by white curtains” and the sunshine, are all of the wide outdoors to be admitted, the key assures privacy, and suggests possession, for a time, of a room’s contours and comforts. “For love, all love of other sights controls, / And makes one little room, an everywhere” as the 17th-century metaphysical poet John Donne would have it, in his own poem extolling a room set apart for lovemaking (“The Good-morrow”). Throughout his career, Williams believed in the energies of love and sexual attraction, and in the clear presentation of what was in front of his eyes. In this poem, he uses the latter to increase the unspoken power of the former. The poem delights precisely because it does not insist on its own profundity or importance, or on a melodramatic or ideological defence of sexual love; it merely luxuriates in its own present physical surroundings, which are felt to reflect the observer’s desire and anticipate its fulfilment.

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The poem “Nantucket” helps to demonstrate, within its limited compass, many of William’s characteristic themes, and in particular, his conviction that the universe is always full of fresh meaning, accessible through close attention and aesthetic imagination. As in so many of his poems, he is charged with eroticism, more surprising and marvellous here for being held back, diffusing across the entire world. With his painting-framing, his attention to colour, the arrangement of the constituent elements, and his focus on vision, Williams declares his appetite for visual art, his long-standing desire to learn from the techniques and perspectives of the painters. It’s a preference for beauty and its optimism represses the pressure of dark pessimism and alienation articulated by other poets of its generation, T.S.Eliot in particular with whom he had many differences in temperament and opinion.

It defers to other poems his own tendency towards disgust and despair, and its concern that America can maintain no more than a “thin veneer” culture, capable of corruption rather than elevation. Yet to catalogue the world as it appears in the here and now, on a specific (and especially) American island, in a language only slightly elevated from the vernacular, to celebrate sex, love and beauty, to note the upside-down position of a glass tumbler, to create joy and anticipation through imaginative prosody—these are some of the tasks that Williams set himself up and realised in the poem “Nantucket.”

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