The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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 the coast of 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 colored and shaped. It creates 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 color that sunshine takes on in late afternoon, and the translucent noncolor of glass. This is a vision of pleasure: composed, quiet, secure, anticipatory, reminiscent of some imagined room painted by seventeenth century Dutch painter Jan Vermeer before 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...

(The entire section is 445 words.)