The Red Wheelbarrow
By William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Many of us have read this poem in our high school or college English classes. It’s one of those poems that is memorable for several reasons. First, it is short. You can memorize the whole poem in only a few minutes and feel wicked smart reciting it to your friends at the coffee shop between classes.
Meaning be damned, you know a poem by heart, and that is Rico Suave.
Second, it is confusing for people new to poetry. It can even inspire wrath from some reluctant poetry readers out there. ”What? That’s stupid. That’s just a sentence describing what is in front of you. So much depends upon a pencil sharpener full of shaving beside the crazy teacher.” I’ve heard people use this poem to defend their belief that poetry is stupid and they just don’t get it. Like it or not, it is memorable.
Third, it is striking. It is striking in its imagistic nature. It is simply an image, no? I picture with words. A precise, crisp picture with words. Words that put pretty close to the exact same picture in my mind as they do in your mind. The picture (of the wheelbarrow, not Kristin Wiig) I found above is not really perfect, is it? The chickens aren’t white enough. The wheelbarrow isn’t glazed enough; however, it was the best I could find with my limited patience.
Yes, this poem does have meaning beyond the image it creates, beyond the picture. But even if it didn’t, I think the picture would be enough, we don’t always have to justify a poem’s existence by digging, dissecting, and even sometimes decapitating it.
Anyway, back to the meaning. The poem makes the reader instantly question. What depends on. . .? Does anything depend on. . .?
Well, certainly. A wheelbarrow is a simple farm tool. Rain is needed for crops to grow. Chickens provide food through their eggs and their meat, too. Okay, so that much is easy. Without farming tools, sources of food and Mother Nature, we would all starve.
But we are not done yet. There is another level here.
Why red? An unpainted wheelbarrow would serve the same function as well as a painted one, right?
Why glazed? Why not just wet?
Why white chickens?
Well, not only do we depend on these items for our physical hunger, we depend on them for our aesthetic hunger. We need beauty around us. Without it, we starve.
Red is a striking, bold color, and we appreciate the brilliant contrast between red and white. We can see the glimmer of the glaze, perhaps even feel it. We may even be able to feel the difference in textures and temperatures: The cool glaze of the wet metal, the warm fluffy softness of the chickens.
In this simple utilitarian scene, there is art; there is beauty. This makes me question how many tools, utensils, and functional items have another layer of art to them around me? I am going to think about this as I look in my own backyard, my own house. I hope you do the same.
Lately, I have been feeling that the world is starving for beauty.
It’s easy to focus on the negative. Lord knows, there is evil in the world.
In news, in Facebook updates, in gossip. . .
This leads me to the main purpose of my blog: I am going to find more beauty and brilliance in the world by actively seeking it out. You are welcome to join me on my journey.