Collective and individual conflict in the poem, "The Yachts"?  The Yachtscontend in a sea which te land partly enclosesshielding them from the too-heavy blowsof an ungoverned ocean which when it...

Collective and individual conflict in the poem, "The Yachts"?


The Yachts

contend in a sea which te land partly encloses
shielding them from the too-heavy blows
of an ungoverned ocean which when it chooses

tortures the biggest hulls, the best man knows
to pit against its beatings, and sinks them pitilessly.
Mothlike in mists, scintillant in the minute

brilliance of cloudless days, with broad bellying sails
they glide to the wind tossing green water
from their sharp prows while over them the crew crawls

ant-like, solicitously grooming them, releasing,
making fast as they turn, lean far over and having
caught the wind again, side by side, head for the mark.

In a well guarded arena of open water surrounded by
lesser and greater crafts which, sycophant, lumbering
and flittering follow them, they appear youthful, rare

as the light of a happy eye, live with the grace
of all that in the mind is fleckless, free and
naturally to be desired. Now the sea whoch holds them

is moody, lapping their glossy sides, as of feeling
for some slightest flaw but f

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In William Carlos William's poem, "The Yachts," there is conflict seen between man and nature as ships battle the powerful ocean. ungoverned ocean which when it chooses...

tortures the biggest hulls, the best man knows

to pit against its beatings, and sinks them pitilessly.

There is also the conflict between men as the yachts race each other, trying to win...

The yachts...

move, jockeying for a start, the signal is set and they

are off.

However, soon the mood of the poem shifts dramatically. There are images of bodies in the water—in agony. This representation by Williams may be symbolic, showing a collective conflict.

The race is finally shown to be a symbol of human struggle, in which the masses are cut down and destroyed.

There are not really bodies in the water, but the yachts symbolize the wealthy, suggesting "a privileged life"—those who own yachts—running over the lower classes, "an exploited class" that works so hard, making the wealth of the "privileged" possible.

However, Elisabeth Schneider finds even deeper meaning in William's poem, drawing attention to J. M. W. Turner's painting called "The Slave Ship." She believes that Williams admired Turner's work, and because his own mother was an art student in Paris at one time, she thinks it is logical to assume that Williams was familiar with the painting. However, in this case, the "yacht" symbolizes the affluent slave traders, amassing their fortunes from the trafficking in human bondage, another much older, collective conflict.

The shift toward the end of the poem points decidedly to human suffering. "The Slave Ship" shows the ocean littered with the bodies of slaves after a storm. Schneider writes, "It seems probable that this association does in fact underlie the poem…"

John Ruskin was a "leading English art critic" who gained a great deal of notice with an essay he wrote in Modern Painters (1843), which defended Turner's work, arguing that "...the principal role of the artist is 'truth to nature'."

Ruskin commented that the painting represented...

...a sunset on the Atlantic, after prolonged storm…[The ship] is a slaver throwing her slaves overboard. The near sea is encumbered with corpses.

Schneider notes that she has not found any printed references by Williams regarding Modern Painters, but that she has found passages in his published letters that "describe sky and sea in strongly Ruskinese terms."

Elisabeth Schneider's association between Turner's painting "The Slave Ships" and William Carlos William's "The Yachts" provides another possible insight into the conflict presented in the poem.

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The Yachts

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