Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Yachts” is about the conflict between that which has form and that which lies outside it. Looking at the yachts, the poet takes note of both their beauty and their apparent indifference to the forces whirling about them. Williams makes so much of the grace of their hulls and their tall rigs that they seem works of art immune to time and the violence of human life. As John Keats shows in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” art seems not to be subject to cycles of creation and destruction. As art, Keats’s urn has a special sort of permanence. The danger exists, however, of forgetting that the very beauty of art that sets it apart from life’s formlessness and uncertainty is an impossible ideal. Thus, the yachts in Williams’s poem that escape the grasping hands of time and change also sail over the cries of pain.

Form and structure are not merely characteristic of works of art. Social and economic institutions also serve as structures, order and define the roles that people will perform, and allocate power. The strong identification between the yachts and the industrialists who, in Williams’s time, were the fairest bloom of capitalism suggests that the form and disorder represented by the yachts and the sea have social significance. Like monopolies and trusts protected from the “ungoverned” world of real free enterprise, the yachts sail serenely and seem to bear testimony to all that is attractive in capitalism—the products of its industry and...

(The entire section is 456 words.)