An Analysis of the Poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”
By: William Carlos Williams
Oppose practicing the learned rhetoric in poetry writing, Williams finds his subjects in such homely items as wheelbarrows. He believes that “localism aline can lead to culture”. Imagism finds its full expression in The Red Wheelbarrow, one of the masterpieces of William Carlos Williams. This paper analyses the linguistic features of this poem, including phonological, lexical, syntactic and semantic features, and we can have a more clear idea of this poem.
The poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” is actually a bright colored picture. The contrast of the white chicken beside the red wheelbarrow is a testament to the colors of the world we live in and that fall within the spectrum of our site. The fact that it is glazed with rain takes us back to the smells of youth when a storm finally breaks and everything is fresh and clean with the sun coming back out. The wheelbarrow is a symbol related to the idea of sustenance. The opening line of the poem "so much depends" is indicative to that William Carlos Williams wanted to write a poem which would create in us a thought process in regards to what is really important in life and link us to memories of our senses in the past based on the exposure an individual had to certain things.
Linguistic presentation of the theme:
(1) Phonological features
In terms of sounds, quite apart from its images or its vocabulary, Williams intricately tunes the poem.
The first and second stanzas are linked by the long “o” in the words “so” and “barrow” and by the short “u” in the words “much”, “upon” and “a”. “l” and “r” interlace the core stanzas that is the second and the third stanzas. These two sounds, however, are not in the first and the fourth stanzas.
This simple device distinguishes the framing stanzas from the central stanzas. One result of this distinction is that the central stanzas are mellifluous, the frame stanzas choppy.
Then, however, the honeyed and the choppy are linked in the third and fourth stanzas. They are joined by means of a parallel construction: the long vowels in “glazed with rain” match those in “beside the white”.
In the last stanza, another loop is closed when the sounds “ch” and “ens” in the last word of the poem echo the sounds in the initial line: “so much depends”.
The fourth, sixth and eighth lines each has only one word. “barrow”, “water” and “chickens”. These words are all stressed on the first syllable and weaken on the second syllable.
(2) Graphical features
This poem is a sentence “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.” to be divided into four stanzas. These four stanzas are always three words and then one word, the one word, moreover, always of two syllables, while the three-word line having four syllables the first and the last time, but only three syllables on its two middle occurrences. This sixteen-word sentence is banal but it is changed into a great poem without displacing a single word except typographically, the sixteen words exist in a different zone altogether, a zone remote from the word of sayers and sayings. That zone is what Williams in the 1920s started calling “the imagination”.
(3) Lexical features
Here the image of the wheelbarrow is introduced starkly. The vivid word “red” lights up the scene. Notice that the monosyllable words in line 3 elongates the line, putting an unusual pause between the word “wheel” and “barrow”. This has the effect of breaking the image down to its most basic parts. Using the sentence as a painter uses line and color, Williams breaks up the words in order to see the object more closely.
Again, the monosyllable words elongate the lines with the help of the literary device assonance. Here the word “glazed” evokes another painterly image. Just as the reader is beginning to notice the wheelbarrow through a closer perspective, the rain transforms it as well, giving it a newer, fresher look.
The last lines offer up the final brushstroke to this “still life” poem. Another color, “white” is used to contrast the earlier “red” and the unusual view of the ordinary wheelbarrow is complete.
Compound words: wheelbarrow, rainwater
It is important to know that the author means “wheel barrow” instead of “wheel” and “rain water” instead of “rain”. The rigorous metrical convention of the poem demands simply three words in the first line of each couplet and a disyllable in the second. But the line termini cut the words “wheelbarrow” and “rainwater” into their constituents, without the use of hyphenation to warm that the first noun is to be part of a compound, with the implication that they are phenomenological constituents as well. The wheel plus the barrow equals the wheelbarrow, and in the freshness of light after the rain, things seem to lose their compounded propertie. Instead of shifting back and forth from original to derived meanings of words, Williams etymologizes his compounds into their prior phenomena, and his verbal act represents, and makes the reader carry out, a meditative one.
(4) Syntactic features
Since this poem is actually formed by a sixteen-word sentence, it does not have any complete sentences in each stanza. In fact, every stanza is a short phrase. Each stanza includes four words and the first line of every stanza is three words and the second is one word. It seems like a that clause as an object at the beginning of the sentence, giving the readers a kind of feeling that the head is heavier than the feet. In this top-heavy structure, the readers may have a feeling of heaviness and stress, implies the pressure of life.
(5) Semantic features
The wheelbarrow is described as “glazed with rainwater”, that is, shining, with a suggestion of hardness. The author sees the wheelbarrow immediately after the rain, when the bright sun has created the wheelbarrow’s shiny surface and has made the chickens immaculately white. In nature, this scene occurs when dark clouds still cover a portion of the sky. In this short time after the rain has ceased, the chickens have emerged from whatever refuge the sought during the storm. They are reassured that they can begin normal living again and do so calmly.
The metaphor “glazed” captures time in the poem. In a moment, the wheelbarrow will be dry, its sheen gone, yet the hardness suggested by the metaphor is not irrelevant. This moment is like others in life. Periods of danger, terror and stress do not last. The glaze, like the rainbow, signals a return to normality of restoration. The poem creates a memorable picture of this recurring process, reflections upon its meaning may provide the reassurance that makes us more durable.
We can identify two contrasts in the poem. One is between the latest advances in machine technology and the continuing but overlooked importance of elementary machines. The other is between the universal and age-old scene depicted in the poem and the radically new free verse form in which it exists.
With careful word choice, attention to language, and unusual stanza breaks, Williams has turned an ordinary sentence into a great poem. After an analysis of the linguistic features of this poem, we can have a better understanding of the author’s idea and appreciate the beauty of every aspect of this poem.
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white