Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“The Red Wheelbarrow” is perhaps one of the shortest serious poems ever published by an American poet. The structure is rigidly formal. The poem consists of four miniature stanzas of four words each.
so much dependsupona red wheelbarrowglazed with rainwaterbeside the whitechickens.
Three images are involved: the wheelbarrow, described simply as red, the qualifying adjectival phrase “glazed with rain/ water,” which relieves the excessive severity of the second stanza, and the contrasting white chickens of the final stanza. The first line is colloquial and open in its invitation; the second line, the preposition “upon,” prepares the reader for the specifics to follow. Each two-line stanza has two stressed syllables in the first line and one in the second, and yet there is lively variation in where the stresses fall.
In “The Red Wheelbarrow,” Williams discovers an aesthetic pattern and sensory pleasure in an ordinary sight. The poem—or the moment of perception it reports—evokes no cultural traditions or literary associations. The absence of these is strongly noticed, however, for if the poem is an immediate experience, it is also a...
(The entire section is 267 words.)
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