Writing accolades to beauty is a comparatively simple task; however, discovering the unusual in the most prosaic items possible is a task that only a true poet can accomplish. In his poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” William Carlos Williams describes an everyday scene that can hardly be seen as poetic. However, with his ability to represent even the ordinary from an unusual perspective, Williams imbues the described scene of a red wheelbarrow with unique meaning, therefore, establishing the theme of deceptive simplicity. Although the poet initially represents the wheelbarrow as a rather dull and unimaginative thing, he later on shows that it, in fact, can serve a larger purpose, which cements the theme of the magic of the ordinary as the poem’s leitmotif.
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At the beginning, the central item of the poem is portrayed as the thing that is hardly worth any bit of attention. Thus, the theme of the ordinary is established. In fact, at the very beginning, the phrase “So much depends/upon” suggests that the author is going to elaborate on the usefulness of the wheelbarrow in its traditional sense (Williams lines 1-2). As a result, the initial theme is established as the starting point that is going to experience a tremendous transformation shortly. The use of several epithets, particularly, the attempts at characterizing the barrow by pointing to its color, might seem as unnecessary given the short size of the poem. However, as it expands, the role of these descriptors becomes apparent since they serve as the platform for the further change of the object’s perceived use.
Afterward, Williams introduces the reader to a new perspective, which allows seeing the wheelbarrow as more than a vessel. Instead, the barrow is represented as an item of much greater meaning, namely, a shield for living creatures: “beside the white/chickens” (Williams lines 7-8). Therefore, the contrast between the colors represents the transition from the initial theme to the new one, namely, that one of discovering the new meaning of an item and, in a broader perspective, the new meaning for existence, in general.
Eventually, the concluding lines of the poem tie the two images together, creating a smooth transition and blurring the distinction between the initial dull image and the new one that has been enriched with a new meaning and a new purpose. The transfer from the bland, traditional perspective to a new and inspiring one occurs seamlessly due to the concise nature of the poem: “glazed with rain/water/beside the white/chickens” (Williams lines 5-8). Thus, William manages to combine the mundane essence of the tradition with the inspirational perspective power of imagination. In fact, the juxtaposition of white and red, namely, “red wheel barrow” and “white chickens” plays a vital role in emphasizing the perceived incompatibility of the everyday and the miraculous (Williams lines 3-4, 7-8). As a result, the short lines symbolize the utility and the traditional perspective, whereas the choice of words allows drawing the reader’s attention to the innovative way of looking at things.
Although the poem starts with representing its central item as a boring and quite useless thing, the further exploration of the subject matter allows discovering the previously unknown yet nonetheless important purpose of it, thus, embracing its value through the magic of prosaic life. Thus, Williams makes the reader approach everyday items that have been used to the point where their meaning has been gradually erased, and shows the hidden layers of meaning that place the ordinary item in an entirely different category. Thus, the world around the reader transforms, taking a new shape and expanding to open new possibilities.
Williams, William Carols. The Red Wheelbarrow. PoetryFoundation, 1938.