Poetry Analysis ~ ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ of Williams Carlos Williams ~ Aliyu Danladi

Pic: Aminu S Muhammad

The Red Wheelbarrow

So much depends

A red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

The Red Wheelbarrow is a beautiful and simple poem which, at a superficial level, depicts "a red wheel barrow/glazed with rain water" beside some white chickens. And yet the simplicity of the poem is misleading. As the first line says, there is "so much" in it.

Structurally, the poem is divided into four stanzas with two lines each. There is a consistent alternation of three words and then one word in every stanza. In terms of meter, there is no consistency; music is however achieved through the soft vowel sounds in many of the words.

The words in every stanza are arranged and line break employed in such a way to give emphasis on some certain words. The words "wheelbarrow," "rainwater," and "chickens" receive stronger emphasis by being modified with visually-appealing words; "red," "glazed with," and "white" respectively.

From the first instance of reading, the phrase "so much depends upon," calls for our consideration, and then we are presented with the image of a wheelbarrow, rainwater, and chickens respectively. Taking into account that the chickens are the living things among the images presented, one may question why they were not mentioned first. What depended so much on the wheelbarrow that it was mentioned first?

This poem was written in the 20th Century, a time when the wheelbarrow was more an important farming implement than it is today. It was used to transport harvest from farms to households. In light of this, the wheelbarrow may be having so much depending upon it because it was used to transport the grain that the chickens live on. Another thing that consolidates the importance of the wheelbarrow as a farming implement is that, it is "glazed with rainwater," which is an essential of agriculture. The rainwater, glazed on the wheelbarrow, also outlines its beauty. Maybe it had finished raining and we could see the glimpse of sunlight upon the rainwater on the red wheelbarrow. But rainwater, aside from being an essential of agriculture, serves as the main source of water in the world. And to survive those chickens must drink water.

As such, despite being the only living things, we find the chickens at the receiving end of the services of the wheelbarrow and rainwater. Possible, that's why they were mentioned last.

Thus, we have seen that so much, including survival, depends upon some little things.

Aliyu Danladi is a student at Bayero University, Kano, where he participates in Students’ Unionism. Born in Gombe state, he writes poems, literary reviews and articles related to politics and national issues.