(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In “The Yachts,” Williams’s more typical penchant for imagistic presentation coexists with a tendency toward symbolism. Halfway through the poem, there is an interesting and unusual shift from an imagistic to a symbolic mode. The occasion is a yacht race in a bay protected from the “too-heavy blows/ of an ungoverned ocean.”

During the preparations for the race, the speaker is impressed by the physical beauty of the graceful craft, “Mothlike in mists, scintillant in the minute/ brilliance of cloudless days, with broad bellying sails.” Although the appeal is primarily imagistic, there is a metaphoric suggestion in the observation that the yachts, surrounded by more clumsy “sycophant” craft,

appear youthful, rareas the light of a happy eye, live with the graceof all that in the mind is feckless, free andnaturally to be desired.

As the race begins, however, after a delaying lull, the scene changes ominously. The waves of the roughening water now seem to be human bodies overridden and cut down by the sharp bows of the yachts: “It is a sea of faces about them in agony, in despair/ until the horror of the race dawns staggering the mind.” The original appeal of the beautiful spectacle of pleasure boats is broken and then displaced by the revelation of deeper meaning. The...

(The entire section is 408 words.)