The brevity of this short imagist poem of four four-word stanzas forces readers to pay attention to every word before them. The abstract words of the opening stanza, "so much depends / upon," usher in a series of concrete images.
a red wheel
The second stanza, paired with the first, tells us that much depends on a red wheelbarrow. By splitting the word wheelbarrow into two, with the second half of the word ("barrow") placed on its own line, Williams creates enjambment. An enjambment is a line break without punctuation that splits a thought or image and then continues it on the next line. It means that readers have to "step over" the line break to the line that follows to complete the thought.
Enjambments are used for different effects, but in this case, the enjambment forces us to stop and consider the word "wheel" before we consider the word "barrow." This slows us down and causes us to contemplate that a wheelbarrow is made of two distinct parts: the wheel and the barrow. We have the time and space to fully consider the forms—rectangle and circle—and the color ("red") of the wheelbarrow. We are forced to stop and really look at the object itself rather than rush onward and past it.
glazed with rain
This third stanza of four words adds more information and again uses an enjambment to split a word—rainwater—that is usually one word. We know now that we are picturing a scene after a rain storm. The word "glazed" is a strong, vivid verb that adds a painterly quality to the scene, as if nature is an artist adding a glaze to this particular wheelbarrow.
beside the white
The image of the white chickens completes the imagery of the poem. Everything in the world, even the simplest objects, are defined by their relationship to what is around them. The red of the wheelbarrow is all the more vivid in contrast to the white of the chickens that stand near it. The series of descriptors that make up the poem—"red," "glazed," and "white"—stand out starkly from the landscape and lend the poem a painterly quality. Because the poem's images are so sparse, they force us to stop and fully consider them anew, which is one important function of art.