so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
The opening lines set the tone for the rest of the poem. Since the poem is composed of one sentence broken up at various intervals, it is truthful to say that “so much depends upon” each line of the poem. This is so because the form of the poem is also its meaning. This may seem confusing, but by the end of the poem the image of the wheelbarrow is seen as the actual poem, as in a painting when one sees an image of an apple, the apple represents an actual object in reality, but since it is part of a painting the apple also becomes the actual piece of art. These lines are also important because they introduce the idea that “so much depends upon” the wheelbarrow.
Here the image of the wheelbarrow is introduced starkly. The vivid word “red” lights up the scene. Notice that the monosyllable words in line 3 elongates the line, putting an unusual pause between the word “wheel” and “barrow.” This has the effect of breaking the image down to its most basic parts.The reader feels as though he or she were scrutinizing each part of the scene. Using the sentence as a painter uses line and color, Williams breaks up the words in order to see the object more closely.
Again, the monosyllable words elongate the lines with the help of the literary device assonance.Here the word “glazed” evokes another painterly image. Just as the reader is beginning to notice the wheelbarrow through a closer perspective, the rain transforms it as well, giving it a newer, fresher look.This new vision of the image is what Williams is aiming for.
The last lines offer up the final brushstroke to this “still life” poem. Another color, “white” is used to contrast the earlier “red,” and the unusual view of the ordinary wheelbarrow is complete.
Williams, in dissecting the image of the wheelbarrow, has also transformed the common definition of a poem. With careful word choice, attention to language, and unusual stanza breaks Williams has turned an ordinary sentence into poetry.
Interpretation of The Red Wheelbarrow must rely heavily on its visual imagery. There is the vague, casual beginning, “so much depends,” then the images of the wheelbarrow and the white chickens. The reader might be justified in considering the poem merely flippant, or perhaps he might think that the poet intends only to entertain through images, that he asks us to imagine, from these juxtaposed images of red and white, a pleasing photograph or painting as we read. Yet the tone does not invite a dismissal of the generalized introduction. We wish to know what these things matter, to whom they matter.
The answer may be suggested by the poem’s one metaphor: the wheelbarrow is described as glazed with rainwater — that is, shining, with a suggestion of hardness. The speaker sees the wheelbarrow immediately after the rain, when the bright sun has created the wheelbarrow’s shiny surface and has made the chickens immaculately white. In nature, this scene occurs when dark clouds still cover a portion of the sky, often giving an eerie yellow — or blue — green tone to the landscape. In this short time after the rain has ceased, the chickens have emerged from whatever refuge they sought during the storm. They are reassured that they can begin normal living again and do so calmly (simply“beside” the wheelbarrow).
The metaphor “glazed” captures time in the poem. In a moment, the wheelbarrow will be dry, its sheen gone; yet the hardness suggested by the metaphor is not irrelevant. This moment is like other sin life (of the chickens, the speaker, the reader). Periods of danger, terror, stress do not last. The glaze,like the rainbow, signals a return to normality or restoration. The poem creates a memorable picture of this recurring process; reflections upon its meaning may provide the reassurance that makes us more durable.