Deceptively Simple: An Analysis of “The Red Wheelbarrow”

January 10, 2022 by Essay Writer

William Carlos Williams’s poem titled “The Red Wheelbarrow” paints a picture of a wheelbarrow outside in the rain. It is composed of just sixteen words that are divided equally into four stanzas. At first glance, it may seem like a concise and straightforward poem. The author uses fundamental words that even a child could understand. Williams, however, managed to produce much complexity regardless of the shortness and simplicity of his work. The conciseness of the poem initially leaves the audience with a great deal of ambiguity as to what the author was trying to express, though Williams’s writing ultimately indicates the theme of an appreciation for everyday yet intriguing sights such as the wheelbarrow itself.

Williams uses figurative language to poetically communicate how important the wheelbarrow is to the rest of the scene. Despite the fact that “The Red Wheelbarrow” lacks any sort of rhyme scheme, it does follow a general rhythm. Each stanza is composed of just four words and two lines. The first lines of each of the stanzas have three words while the last lines have just one, two-syllable word. Also, the first lines of the first and last stanzas have four syllables while the first lines of the second and third stanzas have three syllables. Williams was conscious of keeping the poem’s rhythm because he broke up the words “wheelbarrow” and “rainwater” to make it consistent. For instance, the second stanza reads, “a red wheel / barrow,” and the third stanza reads, “glazed with rain / water” (1471). These unusual pauses in the words prevent a smooth flow when one reads the poem. It is as if each word has its own individual beat. Williams uses a consistent rhythm in his poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Most of the poem, with the exception of the first stanza, is designated to expressing imagery. The first stanza, however, is part of Williams’s use of concrete imagery because each stanza is shaped like a wheelbarrow. Williams uses the color “red” to describe the wheelbarrow and “white” to describe the chickens in the following lines, “a red wheel / barrow” and “beside the white / chickens” (1471). These colors are very ordinary and there is nothing really spectacular about them. In the third stanza, however, Williams chooses to describe the rainwater as “glazed.” This word shows the beauty of how the rainwater is coating the wheelbarrow. “Glazed” gives the wheelbarrow a glossy and fresh feel. It is not “drenched” or “soaked” with rain, as these words would make the wheelbarrow seem unattractive and dirty. The imagery that Williams shares with the audience is a mundane setting that people could witness almost any day.

It is the first stanza that makes the poem more than just an everyday scene. The first lines, “so much depends / upon” (1471), illustrate Williams’s tone for the poem. It assigns a sense of importance towards the forthcoming object, the red wheelbarrow. He even breaks up the word “wheelbarrow” into “wheel” and “barrow” by placing them on separate lines. Not only is he keeping a consistent rhythm, he is dissecting the object to allow the audience to examine it in its simplest form: a wheel and a barrow. Williams believes that this manmade object is the most important element in the scene. For instance, the chickens are “beside” the wheelbarrow; the wheelbarrow is not “beside” the chickens. It is as if the author sees the wheelbarrow as some sort of king or leader and the other objects are beneath it. Even though Williams’s eyes will naturally be attracted to the largest and brightest object in the scene, the wheelbarrow is more than just a big, bright object. He sees the manmade object, the wheelbarrow, as having an important role on earth. Wheelbarrows were and still are an essential tool to have on a farm. For instance, they can be used to carry seeds for planting or feed for the chickens. They were especially important to farmers during the early 20th century, the time this poem was written, because they did not have the machinery that exists today. Even though the wheelbarrow seems to be superior to the other objects, it does not pose any threat to the chickens or the rainwater. One could argue that the rainwater actually poses a threat to the wheelbarrow because it can cause it to rust and rot. Williams does not bring this thought to the reader’s attention, however. He therefore suggests a harmonious relationship between the three elements in the scene.

Williams’s picturesque poem makes people think about the world that they see around them everyday. These scenes that people witness do not have to be anything extravagant in order to be considered beautiful. Beauty can therefore be found in the simplest things. Another way in which people can relate to this poem is if they tend to take things for granted. It is if Williams is telling them to stop and appreciate not only the beauty of the objects around them, but the objects for what they are worth. People tend to assume that everyday objects, such as a wheelbarrow, will always be there for them. People may not appreciate the fact that they are available for use. It is like the cliché, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” Taking the poem into account, a farmer may not realize the extent to which he depends on the wheelbarrow until it is broken or destroyed. Williams uses “The Red Wheelbarrow” to illustrate the beauty that he found in such a simple scene and also to make the audience think about the things that they take for granted.

“The Red Wheelbarrow” conveys a powerful message to the audience even though it is composed of just sixteen words. Williams uses imagery and a consistent rhythm to place emphasis on the poem’s theme. He tells the audience that a wheelbarrow has an important role on earth. Williams does not tell readers how or why a wheelbarrow is so essential, but he did not need to. The author makes the audience realize that they may take things for granted. Williams wants them to be thankful for what they have. The poem also shows readers the beauty that can be found in the most ordinary things. William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” is a concise poem that tells the audience to have appreciation for the things around them, even if they are so simple and ordinary.

Works Cited

Williams, William C. “The Red Wheelbarrow.” 1923. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter. 6th ed. Vol. D. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. 1471. Print.

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