How is imagery used in the poem "The Red Wheelbarrow?"

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Red Wheelbarrow" is one of the most famous poems from William Carlos Williams. It is so short that it can be reproduced here in its entirety:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.
(Williams, "The Red Wheelbarrow)

The style of the poem is Imagist, a style that rejected flowery or allegorical prose in favor of clear, explicit language. The images of the poem create, all by themselves, the interpretation of the poem; the first line makes it clear that the wheelbarrow is not just an ornament but a working tool, red for easy use in the early morning and late night, and an essential tool for the farm. This shows the usefulness of a single object, something that is not a metaphor for the human condition, but a tool of labor.

The other images, the "glazed rain water" and the "white chickens," serve to cement the setting, the utilitarian nature of the farm -- the wheelbarrow is not planted with flowers, but sitting momentarily unused next to the chickens, which themselves are essential parts of a farm's operation. Any other interpretations, allegorical or metaphorical, are personal to the reader (is the wheelbarrow a symbol of "the daily grind?"); the poem instead shows three images and explains why they are important. Setting meaning to anything other than the actual words of the poem is subjective; the poem focuses on creating the feeling of actually seeing the scene, as well as eliminating unnecessary language.

Read the study guide:
The Red Wheelbarrow

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