Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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 savors 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 a play begins. The setting is a bedroom of surpassing beauty and privacy—perhaps in a cottage guesthouse on Nantucket in high summer—as yet untouched, all in readiness, redolent of its own imminent moment of romantic intimacy, passion, and fulfillment.

Like a white page, the white bed awaits its inevitable story. The flowers “changed by white curtains” and the sunshine are all of the wide outdoors that is 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 seventeenth 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 entire section is 546 words.)