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Monday, 14 May 2012

And Not a Drop To Drink: William Carlos Williams: The Yachts


File:Luxury yachts in Saint-Tropez, 2006.jpg

Luxury yachts in the port of Saint-Tropez: photo by Ed g2s, 5 September 2006

contend in a sea which the 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 craft 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 which holds them

is moody, lapping their glossy sides, as if feeling
for some slightest flaw but fails completely.
Today no race. Then the wind comes again. The yachts

move, jockeying for a start, the signal is set and they
are off. Now the waves strike at them but they are too
well made, they slip through, though they take in canvas.

Arms with hands grasping seek to clutch at the prows.
Bodies thrown recklessly in the way are cut aside.
It is a sea of faces about them in agony, in despair

until the horror of the race dawns staggering the mind,
the whole sea become an entanglement of watery bodies
lost to the world bearing what they cannot hold. Broken,

beaten, desolate, reaching from the dead to be taken up
they cry out, failing, failing! their cries rising
in waves still as the skillful yachts pass over.

A woman carries her child amidst dusty winds in the desert near Mondo, a village in the Sahel belt of Chad. UNICEF estimates that 127,000 children under the age of 5 in Chad's Sahel belt will require lifesaving treatment for severe acute malnutrition this year, with an estimated 1 million expected throughout the wider Sahel region of West and Central Africa in the countries of Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal and Mauritania
: photo by Ben Curtis/Associated Press, 19 April 2012

File:Eclipse docked in Nassau Jan 12, 2011.JPG

The megayacht Eclipse docked in Nassau; built in Hamburg by Blohm & Voss, designed by Terence Disdale Design; naval architect Francis Design; at 163.5 metres (536 feet), the world's largest private yacht, 0.5 metres longer than the Dubai, owned by Sheikh Mohammed, ruler of Dubai; constructed at an original estimated cost of US $475 million, with adjusted estimates up to $1.12 billion, Eclipse was delivered to Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich on 9 December 2010; its features include three launch boats, a mini-submarine capable of submerging to 50 metres; automated intruder detection; a German-designed missile defence system; armour plating and window bulletproofing on bridge and master suite; according to report, a laser shield to prevent unwanted photographing; two helipads, 24 luxury guest cabins, a number of hot tubs, two swimming pools and a disco hall: photo by DCwom, 12 January 2011

A donkey lies partially covered by the wind-swept sand in an area of desert where villagers take dead animals to avoid the smell and potential for the spread of disease, near the village of Dala in the Sahel belt of Chad. Mothers with hungry and malnourished children are flocking to feeding sites and clinics in the Chadian desert by any means they can and where it is sometimes too late to save their babies' lives. Health and U.N. officials warn that more children will die if international humanitarian assistance is not increased: photo by Ben Curtis/Associated Press, 19 April 2012

File:Eclipse yacht landing boat.jpg

The megayacht Eclipse in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, showing one of the landing boats being launched from a hatchway at the side: photo by Pontificalibus, 18 January 2012

Chadian men and boys use a donkey to pull up water, (the quality of which is only suitable for animals to drink) from a well which took twenty men a week to dig by hand, in a wadi near Tchyllah, a desert village in the Sahel belt of Chad
: photo by Ben Curtis/Associated Press, 19 April 2012


Eclipse at Frederkshavn, Denmark (during its trial): photo by Keld Gydum, 21 September 2009

A mother and her child walk to get water, pumped by hand from a well in Mondo. UNICEF estimates that 127,000 children under 5 years of age, in Chad's Sahel belt will require lifesaving treatment for severe acute malnutrition this year: photo by Ben Curtis/Associated Press, 19 April 2012

File:Yacht Dubai on 8 May 2008.jpg

Dubai (formerly named Platinum), moored in Port Rashid, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; built in 2006 by the German shipbuilding firms Blohm & Voss and Lürssen; currently owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates; at 162 metres (524 feet, ten inches), the second largest private yacht in the world: photo by Imre Solt, 8 May 2008

A woman prepares her shawl as her baby lies on the ground. She arrived by donkey to have the baby examined for signs of malnutrition at a walk-in feeding center in Dibinindji, a desert village in the Sahel belt of Chad: photo by Ben Curtis/Associated Press, 18 April 2012

File:Port Jebel Ali on 1 May 2007 Pict 1.jpg

Megayacht Platinum (now the Dubai), moored in Port Jebel Ali in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; United States Aircraft Carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) may be seen docked to the right: photo by Imre Solt, 1 May 2007

A woman carries washed clothes away after allowing them to dry on a brush fence in Mondo, a desert village in the Sahel belt of Chad: photo by Ben Curtis/Associated Press, 19 April 2012

Roman Abramovich's super yacht Pelorus at anchor in Copenhagen harbour. Originally commissioned by a Saudi businessman, Pelorus (from the Greek word “pelorios”, meaning “vast”) was built at the Lürssen shipyard in Bremen, launched in 2003 and sold in 2004 to Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich, who had the vessel refitted by Blohm & Voss, adding a second helicopter pad and four zero-speed stabilizers, among other modifications; the refitted yacht has several tenders on board, as well as a garage full of recreational toys, jet skis & c.; under Abramovich's ownership, operating with a full time crew of up to 46, it cruised the Mediterranean in summer, and was sailed down through Suez in winter; on occasion Abramovich lent it to players of his Chelsea football club (including Frank Lampard and John Terry, who honeymooned aboard it in 2007); in 2009 ownership passed by divorce settlement to Irina Abramovich, who in 2011 sold the vessel through broker Merle Wood to David Geffen for $300 million; currently owned by Bernd Pfeiffer: photo by Casper Moller, 20 May 2008

Two Chadian boys sit on the sand together in Tchyllah, a desert village in the Sahel belt of Chad: photo by Ben Curtis/Associated Press, 19 April 2012

File:Yacht Lady Moura in Monaco.jpg

Megayacht Lady Moura in the port of Monaco: photo by Berthold Werner, 12 October 2005

A donkey carcass lies in an area of desert near the village of Dala in the Sahel belt of Chad. Scarce rainfalls in 2011 caused poor harvests, livestock production and all suffered from drought conditions: photo by Ben Curtis/Associated Press, 20 April 2012

File:Three luxury yachts - Lady Anne, Lady Moura and Pelorus.jpg

Three luxury yachts -- Lady Anne, Lady Moura and Dilbar, all among the world's 100 largest -- in the harbour of Porto Cervo: photo by Heinz-Josef Lücking, 20 July 2010

A woman rides a donkey over sand-dunes in Dibinindji, a desert village in the Sahel belt of Chad: photo by Ben Curtis/Associated Press, 18 April 2012

"I wrote the whole damn thing without a change.... the yachts do not sink but go on with the race while only in the imagination are they seen to founder I was thinking of terza rima, but gave up rime -- a very vague imitation of Dante. I was quickly carried away by my own feelings." 

(The poet's private comment on The Yachts, transcribed in the 1950s by John C. Thirlwall in his annotated copy of The Collected Earlier Poems)

"It is a false situation which the yachts typify with the beauty of their movements while the real situation (of the poor) is desperate while ‘the skillful yachts pass over.’” 

(from notes by the poet filed in a folder with a letter to Henry W. Wells of 27 July 1955)

"'The Yachts,' that often anthologized, uncharacteristic effort of Williams, which Williams liked though he knew its technique was imitative. He had begun it with Dante's terza rima since he was borrowing the scene from the Inferno where Dante and Virgil must cut through the arms and hands of the damned floating beneath them who try to sink their small boat. Williams was remembering the magnificent America's Cup yacht races he had seen off Newport, Rhode island, and the ambivalence he had felt watching all that aristocratic skill while knowing that it was a nation of poor people who in reality supported this small privileged class. In a letter he wrote in late August of that year to Pound, after 'The Yachts' had already been printed in The New Republic, Williams provided an extraordinary gloss on the sentiments expressed in that poem. The letter was written from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where Williams had taken Floss and Paul to visit young Bill, who was working in marine biology at the laboratories there for the summer.

"Williams had just finished reading Pound's latest book, Jefferson and/or Mussolini, and had enjoyed it because Pound had persisted 'in finding a local solution pertinent to the present world situation.' But Italy was not America, and Williams believed now that the revolution in America was further off than ever. At that moment the trouble with Americans getting anything like justice served to them, as far as Williams was concerned, was 'the organized opposition by the wealthy Republicans to everything Roosevelt is trying to do. It's a race: he'll do it his way, putting over the rudiments of an idea, or they'll get the whip hand back and kill the idea.' And if the moneyed Republicans did get power, any chance of a revolution would be dead. Williams had called it a race: a political race between Democrats and Republicans like those yachts racing for the America's Cup in the summer of '35. One or the other side would win -- probably the special interests once again -- and the sansou, the poor, the disenfranchised, would be cut aside relentlessly as they clawed against the boats struggling simply to stay afloat."

(from Paul Mariani: William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked, 1981)


Conrad DiDiodato said...

Thanks, Tom,

for reminding us, again.

Hazen said...

Tom, This is deeply disturbing, as it should be. ‘. . . the horror of the race dawns staggering the mind . . .’ A world as out-of-balance as the one that assaults us here can’t last. It continues only by main force, and becomes no longer an Earth but a prison for rich and unrich alike. Mere physics will redress the balance, in part. We’re alreadiy coming up hard against a finite material world. How to revive a moribund sense of ethics and compassion in the human race, and recover the inner balance, is another question.

ACravan said...

This is simply unbelievable to read and to see; the poem, pictures and their captions seen together have incredible force. I used to have a subscription to the English "people, places and events" magazine, Hello! (it's nice to look at because it's large format) and they went in for a fair amount of yacht coverage (and rather less desert famine reporting). It's the laser shield to prevent unwanted photography that's chiefly missing from my life. Until now, I guess I never knew. Curtis

Chris said...

I know only one very small fact about very large yachts: they're often a "bet the company" proposition for the builder, meaning that if the customer withdraws while the yacht is under construction, the builder has to throw in the towel and liquidate. Several large yacht-builders have gone under this way. Great riches/volatility. Devil/long spoon.

Anonymous said...
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Sara said...

Hello :) I would love it if you could check out the poems I wrote on my blog and give me some feedback! Pretty please? :)




"brilliance of cloudless days, with broad bellying sails"

"donkey lies partially covered by the wind-swept sand"

"Megayacht Dubai (formerly named Platinum)"

"A woman prepares her shawl as her baby lies on the ground"

"as the skillful yachts pass over"

"while the real situation (of the poor) is desperate"


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
top of ridge, quails calling from field
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

where extended space, field
is chosen arbitrarily

from point to a line, since
from part, it follows

grey white of fog against top of ridge,
pelican flapping to the left toward it

E said...

Are not each of us well fed, well educated people at least as guilty of excess, ignorance and unwillingness to act as the yacht owners?

If you were to meet the mother of a malnourished child or the father of a child who died of starvation how would you explain the difference between you and yacht owner?

Tom Raworth said...

"I don't own a yacht" might be a start.

TC said...

Well, to start with, I'm sorry to say I would probably be difficult to mistake for a yacht owner under any circumstance.

Even with the jaunty cap.

Otherwise... I suppose there is some point in the implication that one person's excess might well be another's want, and vice versa.


"Are not each of us ... at least as guilty of excess, ignorance and unwillingness to act as the yacht owners?"

That's one of those Zen parable questions, I reckon.

It seems to answer itself really.

Though the "at least" does go a bit overboard with the parable.

Man the lifeboats! Logical excess ahoy!

Without any ability to fathom how it might feel to be the owner of a megayacht, the best one can say is that from the outside looking in, the glass through which one views the interior of the parabolic luxury-goody-shop remains dark and clouded.

There are perhaps degrees of excess. To be not dying however is not quite the same thing as to be a fat cat.

Nin Andrews said...

It is insane, really. I don't know. What I find most overwhelming is the sense that we COULD solve or mitigate certain crisis but don't because of the odd circles of power in almost every organization.

TC said...

Nin, I think those circles of power in organizations and institutions are carefully calculated and contrived; and although to us they may at times appear odd (because we're on the outside), from the inside they appear necessary, natural, normal and in keeping with the Creator's grand design for the universe.

Watching the diners emerge well fed and liquored after an exquisite and expensive meal at the local chosen meeting place of the rich and famous, it's always hard for me to imagine any of these people ever has the slightest suspicion that that design was drawn up to suit any one but them.

Chris said...

Apropos your well-fed diners, Tom, I will say that (at least in my experience) rich people have varied states of mind, just like the rest of us. It's quite possible to feel trapped amid all the affluence. Perfect selfishness is as hard to find as perfect altruism. Indeed, it's a mark of the system's ill design that life within it is as bad spiritually for the people at the top as it is for those at the bottom.

TC said...

Chris, well, nobody's perfect, though some credible simulations do appear.

I do agree with you that the system is the trap. But to an unfortunate degree the system is/was always designed and driven by the affluent (with of course their own perceived advantage rarely far from view in the planning).

Certainly the affluent are not spared their particular psychic travails (often indeed the effluence as it were, of the affluence); but nor are the less privileged, when it comes to that.

And from experience and observation there grows the conclusion, hard to deny, that when one is poor/old/ill/in difficult material straits, the aggravation of psychic stress, however real, urgent and intense, tends to take a back seat to problems that are unlikely ever to be confronted by those ensconced in the luxury cabins of megayachts.