Many writers struggle to leave an imprint in the minds of their readers through their works. Some dwell on grotesque and absurd themes, others spend too much effort on elaborate historical parallelisms, still others dwell on illicit love affairs told in an inventive plot. For William Carlos Williams, these techniques seem useless as he successfully captures readers’ interest through simple words and style. His poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” published in 1923 demonstrates how the poet can make a lasting impression even to modern-day readers.
“The Red Wheelbarrow” is a one-stanza poem composed of eight very short lines, four of which have three words, while the other four have one. For instance, So much depends upon a red wheel barrow (1-4) Basically, the brevity of the poem is its strongest point. Reading the poem for the first time makes the reader wonder why it is too short, and why the author uses the wheelbarrow as his subject. First, its brevity appalls the readers and makes them look for more descriptions of the subject.
Convinced that the poem has only eight short lines, the readers then tries to unlock the meaning and relevance of the poem (i. e. what is special about the subject that motivated the author to write about it). The mere attention that the reader gives at first reading demonstrates the power of the poem to arouse readers’ interest. The subject appears very common. The color red signifies the commonality of the subject, as many wheelbarrows come in red. However, the strategy the author applies is the other factor that makes the poem very appealing.
Specifically, the element of surprise that the author employs as he suspends some words is what captures readers’ attention. For example, the suspension of the word “barrow” not only distinguishes the tool but also causes a break in the flow of thought of the poem, which causes a similar effect on the readers. Particularly, the suspension of the words that complete the thought of the lines result in the twist of main ideas. In the following lines, note that “water” and “chickens” are suspended to form preliminary ideas, thus:
Glazed with rain water Beside the white chickens (5-8) According to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary (2007), suspension is a rhetorical device in which “the principal idea is deferred to the end of a sentence or longer unit. ” It is a form of aposiopesis, a rhetorical device in which the author stops abruptly, leaving the line unfinished. However, in the above lines, we see that the words “water” and “chickens” which follow the suspended lines contain the principal idea that restructures the preliminary ideas in the preceding lines.
The word “water” restructures the thought that “glazed with rain” forms in line 5. Without it, the readers would imagine the red wheelbarrow being submerged in the rain but the word “water” that follows implies that the rain is finished. This creates a fresh atmosphere, and a thanksgiving for the rain that passed. Similarly, the word “chickens” restructures the idea suggested in the line it follows. Initially, readers could think that the red wheelbarrow rests beside a white structure, such as a wall; but the word “chickens” clarifies its position.
Moreover, it forms a new idea that may deconstruct the thought already constructed by the readers upon reading the first few lines. Initially, lines 1-7 of the poem create the image of a construction site where the wheelbarrow is used as a tool to carry loads such as rock, sand, and cement. However, the word “chickens” deconstructs that idea, suggesting instead that the setting of the poem is in a farm. Hence, this wholly deconstructs the initial idea regarding the use of the wheelbarrow, making it appear as a farming tool.
In relation to this, the word “chickens” suggests a different setting which is a farm. It also implies that instead of a construction site worker, the persona in the poem is a farmer or a person who lives in a farm. There is a big difference between the two, as the initial concept would constitute a utilitarian view of the subject while the second would create a romantic or sentimental idea. To illustrate, the concept of a construction worker as the persona creates a picture of the wheelbarrow as an ordinary tool to transport materials for constructing a building or a house.
As such, the subject will be seen merely as a utility that helps facilitate the work of some men. However, the second concept where the persona is a farmer implies a romanticized view of the wheelbarrow, suggesting a shift from the wheelbarrow’s structure to its whole essence. The first line that says, “So much depends” relates the meaningfulness of the wheelbarrow, not only as a tool to facilitate work but as a companion to feed the farm creatures and eventually to make a good living for the farmer and his/her family.
Considering this, the second idea, which the word “chicken” implies, thus illustrates how the wheelbarrow is perceived from its economic value (form) to its sentimental value (essence). Furthermore, this illustrates the power of one word to affect the whole meaning of the poem. On a different note, the shortness of the poem makes the readers easily memorize it. Like a song that one last hears before sleeping at night that causes LSS (last song syndrome), the poem, with all its short lines, can cause one to recite it repeatedly. This way, the author becomes successful in making his work timeless and well remembered.
Furthermore, as readers remember the lines of the poem, they experience the same sentimentality that the author suggests, and this moves them to feel the same towards other things around them.
References Suspension. (2007). In Merriam Webster online dictionary. Retrieved April 15, 2009, from http://dev. m-w. com/dictionary/suspension+ Williams, William Carlos. (1923). The red wheelbarrow. Retrieved April 15, 2009, from http://www. poets. org/viewmedia. php/prmMID/15537 Bibliography Harris, Robert. (2008). A handbook of rhetorical devices. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from http://www. virtualsalt. com/rhetoric. htm#Aposiopesis