The Art of Poetry: Interpretation and Imagination in William Carlos Williams' ‘the Red Wheelbarrow'

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William Carlos Williams, born in Rutherford, New Jersey, was one of the major writers of the Modernist movement, and he contributed greatly to the creation of a distinctly innovative American voice. He consciously provided a counterpoint to the works of Frost, Pound and Eliot, yet successfully composed his own highly original poetry of sensuous and associative immediacy and surprising vivacity, in spite of the ostensible aura of improvisation that one gains from a preliminary reading. ‘The Red Wheelbarrow' perhaps epitomises Williams' succinct, deceptively simple and extremely evocative style, and in many ways he can be regarded as an artistic poet, for he is able to capture a moment in time like an un-posed snapshot or a still-life painting, and he then presents a picture which hints at hidden possibilities and attractions.

The meticulous metrical convention of ‘The Red Wheelbarrow' involves just three words in the first line of each couplet and a disyllable in the second.# Interestingly, the line termini of the second and third stanzas severs the compound nouns , ‘wheelbarrow' and ‘rainwater' into their constituents, forcing the reader to pause and savour each building block of language and meaning; to analyse and appreciate every image in the scene. Also, the fact that we are awaiting grammatical and semantic understanding at the end of the first line of each couplet results, as Charles Altieri observed, in our minds being "made to hover over details…so that we are lead to recognise the miraculous quality of words and cares eventually taking hold".# The use of monosyllabic words in line three, ‘a red wheel', coupled with the notable drawn-out assonance of the letter ‘e' further coerces the reader into examining the etymology of the line, and ultimately to meditate upon the beauty and simplicity of life. In this respect, Williams becomes both poet and painter: he wields form and line as the artist wields paint and brush in order to capture that moment in...
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