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

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Imagery is absolutely central to this poem. It has no particular meaning or message outside of the image it seeks to convey. The poet, William Carlos Williams , uses color imagery in particular to help the audience vividly see the scene he is describing. The color of the wheelbarrow is...

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Imagery is absolutely central to this poem. It has no particular meaning or message outside of the image it seeks to convey. The poet, William Carlos Williams, uses color imagery in particular to help the audience vividly see the scene he is describing. The color of the wheelbarrow is an important feature, as is the color of the chickens—the contrast between the red wheelbarrow and the white chickens creates a picture of a farmyard scene, of the type we might have seen in illustrations or books. The color of the wheelbarrow is such that the wheelbarrow stands out as the most important object in the scene, the color red drawing the eye. As Williams says in the poem, "so much depends" upon the wheelbarrow, the central feature in the scene.

Other elements of imagery in the scene depicted include the touch of rainwater which "glazed" the wheelbarrow. This is a small element, but it indicates multitudes: we can infer from this that the rest of the scene, too, will be wet; that the farmyard has been rained upon. Williams's strength here is in the use of tiny details which help the reader build up a picture of the wider whole.

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"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.

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