What is the significance of the lack of punctuation in "The Red Wheelbarrow"?What is the significance of the line breaks in the poem?

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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William Carlos William’s poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” disobeys at least one rule of good writing: it uses a vague subject (“so much”) and never tells us what that subject is. What, example, depends on this red wheelbarrow? The success of this one farm? The order of the entire universe? Or what? It seems only fitting to me that the poem should disregard other conventions, such as capitalizing the first word to the sentence.

The line breaks may be significant because they, at least twice, force a break in a word into two pieces when that word would normally be written as one: “wheel / barrow” and “rain / water” instead of “wheelbarrow” and “rainwater.” (The second break also allows for a clear rhyme between “glazed” and “rain,” which might otherwise be overlooked.) Some critics have commented famously on these breaks (see, for example, the Voices & Visions series). To me, these breaks encourage use to the see the words that make up larger words. We are thus encouraged to look at familiar items in a new way. Many of Williams’ other poems do much the same thing, for example, by turning a blossoming tree, a brief note of apology, a glimpse of a housewife in a robe, or shards of broken glass in an alley into poetry.

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