The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams

The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams, by first appearance, might seem like a bizarre poem about an unimportant “wheel barrow.” Upon deeper consideration, however, the reader can uncover layers of depth that speak of disguise, appreciation, and usefulness that can be applied outside of the poem—like in the relationships we have with companions. Basically, from this story of “a red wheel barrow,” we can realize that some of the most crucial elements in our lives can go overlooked, and we can use that information to show more appreciation to those who merit it. You can read the full poem here.


The Red Wheelbarrow Analysis

Lines 1-2

The structure of this poem is remarkably fitting for the commentary that is taking place regarding the “red wheel barrow” being described. Specifically, no word of this set of lines (or of the lines to follow) is capitalized, which shows a lack of visible importance for everything said. Even with the beginning of a sentence with “so,” there is no capitalization. This speaks of how unadorned and overlooked a “wheel barrow” can be, though its uses are many. No doubt, the “wheel barrow” can be utilized as a grand tool for manual labor, but when someone sees it, there is little significance to note, like a lowercase tool that is surrounded by things that seem more important. Still, “so much depends upon” this tool that the lack of visible grandeur is somewhat misleading, just as the lowercase lettering can be a misleading detail that hides the fact that what is presented is, in fact, a full sentence.

As well, the structure of the poem is very reliable. Each first line of every set is three words, and the second line of each set comes with just one word. This shows that the “wheel barrow” is sturdy and reliable in its nature to be a sound tool. Worth noting as well is that the only way that this basic three-to-one-word structure for line sets can be accomplished is for the poet to separate “Wheelbarrow” into two words. This manipulation of the wording to fit into the structure indicates that this tool can be used in various manners, like it too can be made into the right tool for jobs even when it logically is not a perfect fit. Essentially, then, this overlooked “wheel barrow” is multifaceted and dependable, even if circumstances logically stand outside of its normal reach.

That the narrator says “upon” instead of “on” is telling as well since it comes with an elegant connotation like something out of a fairy tale. Given that fairy tales often include royalty and disguises—like Snow White’s stepmother as an old lady, Cinderella at the ball, and Princess Aurora in a quaint cottage—this hints that there is something above and beyond at work with this “wheel barrow.” Like these fairy tale characters, there is more to this “wheel barrow” than meets the eye.

One final note about these beginning lines is that this “wheel barrow” is “red.” This is such a connected color for a “wheel barrow” that it borders on cliché, and if a person pictures it in front of a “red” barn, the “wheel barrow” could easily blend in. In this, the narrator has addressed the “wheel barrow” in a manner that makes it very typical in coloring, and something that likely does not stick out from its surroundings. Basically, it is doomed to be overlooked though “so much depends upon” it.


Lines 3-4

This pair of lines continues with the same structural patterns of word counts and no capitalization, though it does add a bit of elegance to the noted “wheel barrow.” In particular, the “wheel barrow” is “glazed with rain water.” While this speaks to the level of disregard the “wheel barrow” endures to be left out to the elements, the verb choice of “glazed” comes with a connotation of a shining covering. Though it comes from neglect, in a way, this is a glimmering sheen that adds something to the visual of the “wheel barrow.” It is no longer just “red” and ordinary, but “glazed”—shining and more likely to gain attention.

However, that attention is stunted with the final line of the poem when the poet notes that this “wheel barrow” is “beside the white chickens.” As was noted earlier, “a red wheel barrow” can certainly blend into a typical farm lifestyle, particularly when something as bright as a “white chicken” is there to catch a viewer’s eyes. The irony, though, is that this “wheel barrow” could be used to help tend to the chickens as well, such as carrying their food. Regardless of this usefulness, the “wheel barrow” could be overlooked in favor of the “chickens” and their brighter coloring.

There is no punctuation mark within this poem outside of the final period. What this indicates is that only the final act of the “wheel barrow” matters, as in only its ability to function fully. There is no appreciation shown, though the owner of the “wheel barrow” must have his tasks finished to completion by the “wheel barrow.” In this, the period is needed because it indicates that the ending details are what matter. As well, it indicates that this is the ultimate end to the existence of the “wheel barrow.” It will never escape this cycle, and this situation of being overlooked and little appreciated is its ultimate end.

When applied to human nature, this poem could indicate that there are people around us who are essential to our being, but they go overlooked as well for various reasons. However, their influence on our lives makes it so they should glisten more brightly, like a “glaze” that comes from “water” on the “wheel barrow.” In essence, this poem could be a lesson by comparison to look for those who truly matter in order to make sure we do not take them for granted. Otherwise, the lack of appreciation could continue to the relationship’s end, like the period is the only punctuation mark within this poem.

It is noteworthy, though, that nothing in the poem indicates that the “wheel barrow” will stop functioning or lower its quality because of the lack of appreciation, other than the possibility of becoming rusted from the “water,” so there is little hint of warning of losing someone who is not cared for in a right manner. It is, rather, the very essence of allotting the due amount of appreciation that makes the concept worth putting into action. Overall, there is a great deal to learn about how to treat our companions found with this “wheel barrow” so that our friendships do not become tainted and rusty.


About William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams was born in 1883, and he was both a writer and a doctor. His background includes various ancestries, such as French, Puerto Rican, Jewish, and Spanish, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel. He passed away 1963—the same year he earned that Pulitzer.

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