so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
In our last classic poetry spotlight, we learned about an American poet born in 1830, Emily Dickinson, and her poem, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers.” This week, we’ll talk about a modernist American poet, William Carlos Williams, and his infamous poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.” This poem is one of Williams’ most frequently anthologized poems and focuses on the objective representation of objects, conforming to the Imagist movement popular in the 1920s, when the poem was published. Early twentieth-century imagism simply refers to poetry that favors imagery and clear, sharp language.
Reception and Inspiration for “The Red Wheelbarrow”
Don’t overlook this poem for its length and simple language – this brief, haiku-like free verse poem brings up much to be discussed. Williams was inspired to write this poem when he met a fisherman named Marshall, who had an old red wheelbarrow in his backyard surrounded by white chickens. His affection and good relationship with the man inspired his word choice and subject matter.
The poem was highly praised by critics. John Hollander commended “The Red Wheelbarrow” for its use of enjambment (the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line). Williams’ use of enjambment served to slow down the reader and allow time to stop and consider each line individually, even though each line was only a small piece of one full sentence. According to the editors of the book Exploring Poetry, “…since the poem is composed of one sentence broken up at various intervals, it is truthful to say that ‘so much depends upon’ each line of the poem. This is so because the form of the poem is also its meaning.”
Did you enjoy learning about William Carlos Williams’ poetry? Take a stab at writing your own short, yet powerful poem like “The Red Wheelbarrow.” If you like what you write, consider submitting it to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!