The most striking aspect of William Carlos Williams’ poem “Nantucket” is the lack of a poetic speaker. The poem is written entirely in present tense and moves like a camera across a fixed, silent tableau. We have a lyrical description of a room: flowers against the curtains, with sun shining in. There is no sign of human habitation but we know, by the readiness, the pitcher and tumbler, and the tidy presentation, that the room has been set up. We know it is late afternoon, and that the room is unoccupied (“immaculate”), private (the phallic, prone “key”) and that occupation is imminent. The images are crisp, richly coloured, concrete and very visual, with a strong sensuality conveyed by scent (“Smell of cleanliness”), sight (lavender, yellow, white), and feel (sunshine). This is a poem that presents a classic example of Imagism. There is no sentiment expressed. Williams’ language is economic and clear, focusing only on this single space of the present moment: a self-contained room. Most of the scene is set using nouns: flowers, curtains, sunshine, a glass of water, a key, a bed.
In spite of the pristine nature of the poem’s imagery and the lack of a narrative, there is a dynamic quality to the work. A judicious use of transitive verbs: “changed”, “turned down”, “lying”, charge the nouns with a strong sensual quality, as if these items were readying themselves for something to follow, and contained by the clear space of the room with its obvious borders. There is a strong sense of distinction between the self-contained world inside the room (white on white), and outside of the room (colour on colour). Additional motion is conveyed by the use prepositional phrases like “through the”, “changed by”, “on the”, “by which” and “is lying” which give the nouns a sense of agency and connection, so that each one’s placement is part of the meaning of the other and exists only in conjunction with its precedent.
The poem has a very consistent structure and rhythm, which also provides a motion that contrasts strongly with the static nature of the imagery. The five two line stanzas don’t rhyme but have a very regular syllabic pattern of 6/6, 6/5, 7/4, 7/4, 7/6, heighted by the way the syllables are accented, swapping between iambic and trochaic rhythm which also creates a kind of motion - like a dance between alternating stresses. You don’t need to read these stresses with overt iambic and trochaic patters, but the ghost of that rhythm keeps the work light and bouncy. Enjambment, particularly in the second half of the poem, and dashes are both used to introduce a sense of emotive progression as the reader’s eye moves down the page from the window to the bed, preceded by the dash and capitalised preposition “And the”, as if the bed were our destination, and the slow progression from window to bed was one of desire and consummation.