William Carlos Williams was born in New Jersey and grew up in a diverse family – not only culturally diverse, but diverse in the talents they were given. He had the opportunity to learn from family members who worked with different types of art, such as theatre, and family who valued works of literature, such as Shakespeare and the Bible. In high school, Williams began to form a love for poetry and literature. Though his parents encouraged him to study medicine, he had found his passion – writing, and eventually began to pursue it.
Initially, Williams had little significance. Many other poets received more recognition than he did, until the Imagist movement, where he was a key poet and began to inspire the Beat generation. Throughout his different poems, including The Red Wheelbarrow, William Carlos Williams uses unique structure and imagery to make his point and help the reader find a deeper meaning behind each work of art. In The Red Wheelbarrow, by William Carlos Williams, the first thing that catches the attention of the reader is the layout of the poem.
There are four separate “paragraphs,” each containing two lines. On the first line, there are three words and on the second line, only one. This is due to the formalist attributes that he included. Formalism is focused on how the poem is structured and the style of it. This can include the shape of the poem, how the author writes, or any similar qualities. The layout of The Red Wheelbarrow gives each word more importance. Take the third and fourth line for example, which read, “a red wheel / barrow.” (Williams, lines 3-4)
Though wheelbarrow is supposed to be one word, the breaking of the word into two different parts gives it more emphasis and causes the reader to think deeper about the meaning behind it. Along with the layout of the poem, the imagery in the text helps the reader to picture the setting, which could lead to a better understanding of the author’s purpose behind the words. Six out of the eight lines in the poem give the reader a description of what they may see. It is quoted, “the red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water,” (Williams, lines 3-6) which is a clear description that gives the writing more depth.To understand the symbolism in this poem, the reader must know more information about the time period.
When this was written, wheelbarrows were the main piece of equipment used on the farm because there were no tractors. They would be used constantly on a well-run farm to accomplish the tasks at hand. As read in the poem, the wheelbarrow is sitting and collecting rainwater, which symbolizes the failure of this farm. The word “glazed,” used to describe how the rainwater covers the wheelbarrow, also symbolizes non-use and coldness the sitting time has caused. The contrast, or juxtaposition, in the poem perfectly aligns with the symbolism.
The wheelbarrow sits in rainwater, unused and stiff, while the chickens are alive. The colors create contrast to support this, as well. The color of the chickens – white – symbolizes life. The dark color of the wheelbarrow – red – symbolizes the opposite. The juxtaposition of the objects themselves and their color create depth and give life to the simple words in the poem. (Liquori)When a reader first glances at The Red Wheelbarrow, it seems like a poem with little purpose and no depth. But as one looks deeper into it, the imagery, symbolism, and contrast help it come alive and have a greater meaning than what it may seem, giving Williams great success with formalism.