write a paragraph of the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”

 

The Red Wheelbarrow

BY WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens

Please read the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” . Then read the article about that poem. After you understand the poem and the article, write a paragraph of at least 10 sentences exploring one or more ideas in the poem that the article helped you understand.

The article about “The Red Wheelbarrow” Poem:

An overview of “The Red Wheelbarrow” Poem, 1923 American Poet ( 1883 – 1963 )

Other Names Used: Williams, William C. (American poet);

Steven Monte From Literature Resource Center April 3, 2017

Most people who grow up in the United States have an allergy to anything that seems labored, artificial, or pretentious. William Carlos Williams viewed his poetic project in this light, virtually assigning himself the task of reinvigorating American poetry by bringing it back in touch with everyday life. One of his rallying cries throughout his career was “No ideas but in things,” a manifesto for concrete realities against philosophical abstractions. Williams’s mission, which he pursued with almost religious fervor, especially involved writing poetry with the language of ordinary people. According to Williams, American poetry should speak in an American idiom.

Though short and seemingly slight, “The Red Wheelbarrow” is well representative of Williams’s poetic project. The reader does not need detailed knowledge of a literary tradition, nor even a dictionary, to enjoy this poem. The poem may in fact seem so transparent in meaning as to make the reader wonder why so much fuss has been made over it or what makes it a poem at all. But the apparent simplicity of the poem is in certain respects misleading. Some of the poem’s effect relies on the reader’s awareness of another sort of poetry, if not that of T.S. Eliot than of someone else who represents the idea that poetry must be difficult or written in a language removed from what we speak every day. If “The Red Wheelbarrow” feels refreshing, it is in part because it releases us from one set of expectations about poetry and appears to give us something genuine and direct. The poem reinforces this sense of refreshment in that the scene described is apparently a sunny moment following a rain. As simple as the poem may seem, the source of its effects is complicated.

So how does “The Red Wheelbarrow” do whatever it is it does to us? In order to understand the poem, it is worth considering how we would read it if it were altered slightly. If the poem were called “The Blue Wheelbarrow,” for example, we would react to it very differently. Though blue wheelbarrows exist, the scene would seem odd, more like something out of Wallace Stevens than William Carlos Williams. The redness of the wheelbarrow is necessary to evoke a pared-down vision of the world: the stark contrast of red and white, of wheelbarrow and chicken, is the sort of thing we might find in a children’s book. Or suppose that the poem were written as a one-line sentence: “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens.” In this form the poem would lose almost everything that makes it feel like a poem. Clearly the line breaks are important to the poem’s meaning. They also help pace the reading and make up for any lack of punctuation. If we look closely at the poem, further patterns emerge: each two-line unit consists of one line of three words followed by a line containing only one word. Some words, such as “wheelbarrow” and “rainwater,” are broken apart. It is even possible to see the two-line stanzas as visual representations of a wheelbarrow. For a poem that sounds as if it were speaking naturally, “The Red Wheelbarrow” shows signs that someone arranged its words for some effect.

But once again, appearances may be deceiving. Williams himself claimed that he composed “The Red Wheelbarrow” in two minutes. Does this mean that we are guilty of “reading into” the poem if we look too closely at it? Not necessarily. An experienced poet, like a high jumper who trains for months for a few leaps over the bar, may have long hours of practice behind him by the time he goes about his business. More important, explaining why a poem makes us feel the way it does may simply require more time than it takes to read the poem itself, if only because explanation forces us to ask questions we aren’t accustomed to asking. Interpreting poetry may, in short, demand its own kind of training. Still, knowing that Williams would not want us to turn his poem into an intellectual exercise should give us some pause. We should talk about how the poem affects us in an immediate way.

With this perspective in mind we can return with more focus to the question of how “The Red Wheelbarrow” achieves its effects. Most immediately, Williams’s use of line breaks forces us to read more slowly and invites us to look for more significance in the scene described and the words used to describe it. While the scene is ordinary and perhaps typically American, we are urged to see it in a new light. Williams is saying, in effect, that everyday experience can be as poetic as, if not more poetic than, any traditional subject for a poem. By isolating words like “barrow,” “water,” and “chickens,” Williams gives them greater prominence. The first four lines of the poem tell us that much depends upon the red wheelbarrow; the line breaks in the next four lines hint at what the red wheelbarrow helps us perceive. It is as if we were looking at a painting centered on a red wheelbarrow, but in looking at the wheelbarrow we became aware of other objects that surround and in a sense depend on it: the rainwater and the chickens, whose glaze and whiteness appear more clearly next to the red wheelbarrow. The prominence that the layout of the poem gives to certain words is further reinforced on the level of sound: the three nouns “barrow,” “water,” and “chickens” are all accented on the first syllable.

And yet it is not enough to say that the rainwater and the chickens in some sense depend on the wheelbarrow. The phrase “so much depends” makes us feel that the poem is telling us more than this. There is, perhaps, a hidden pun on the word “depends,” the Latin root of which means “hang from” or “hang down.” This pun makes sense given that individual words hang down from the lines consisting of three words, and that the whole poem hangs down from its title, “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Because a pun draws attention to words as words (sounds and letters as opposed to meanings), it also allows us to read the poem as a comment on language and poetry. When Williams splits apart one sentence into eight lines and compound words into their parts, he is showing us the building blocks of meaning which are generally invisible to us. Just as it helps us see an ordinary scene more clearly and more vitally, “The Red Wheelbarrow” helps us see and reflect on what we experience each day in the form of language. We are invited to linger over meanings literally between words, such as the “wheel” in “wheel/ barrow.” The wheelbarrow itself is a tool, a simple machine as a physicist might say, and in this sense can be read as a metaphor for poetry (whose Greek root is the verb “to do” or “to make”). To the extent that poetry helps us see reality more vividly, much depends on it.

In looking closely at “The Red Wheelbarrow,” it is easy to lose sight of the poem’s overall effect. Here it is worth recalling how Williams’s poetic project was in part a reaction against bookishness. “The Red Wheelbarrow” wants to remind us of the things of this world. Its modest size and language cry out to us that less is more and that there is no need to be difficult. Regardless of hidden puns, “The Red Wheelbarrow” ideally does not require lengthy explanations. The poem’s general message seems clear and should not be overlooked when we are trying to understand its deeper meanings. But though “The Red Wheelbarrow” stands on its own in many respects, its effects rely on expectations we bring to our reading. The poem is organized in a far from natural way, yet we feel that it is natural and simple because we are familiar with or can imagine other “artificial” or “difficult” poems. What this means is that “so much” of our reading of a poem “depends upon” how the poem compares to other works we have read. We experience poems—or stories or songs for that matter—in part through other poems, stories, and songs. We may think we are reading a poem or listening to a piece of music on its own, but we are always making comparisons.

In the end, a reading of “The Red Wheelbarrow” leaves us with as many questions as it answers. When we realize that the effect of a poem depends in part upon other poems we might ask how many poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow” can be written before the effect wears off. Does Williams’s poem and poetic project depend too much on a reaction against what does not seem both natural and American? And from here we might begin to question ourselves. When we react against something that seems artificial, labored, or pretentious, what sort of comparison are we making?

Source Citation (MLA 8th Edition)

Monte, Steven. “An overview of “The Red Wheelbarrow”.” Poetry for Students, Gale. Literature Resource Center, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=LitRC&sw=w&u=nhmccd_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CH1420006747&it=r&asid=33e76606a128aacf47f76c2a58168dda. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017. Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420006747

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