Profundity


In 1923, William Carlos Williams wrote one of the most profound poems in the English language: The Red Wheelbarrow. It reads like a Japanese Zen haiku:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Wikipedia tells us that the poem’s title is not its original, but rather one applied by its readers. The poem was first published in anthology titled Spring and All. The poem itself was simply titled “XXII,” indicating its place in the collection.

Referring to the poem as “The Red Wheelbarrow” has been frowned upon by some critics, including Neil Easterbrook, who said that such reference gives the text “a specifically different frame” than that which Williams originally intended. The poem is removed from its place in the anthology and thus takes on a different meaning.

This I think is overly critical. The name isn’t the poem. It’s simply a mnemonic to help us remember.

Williams was a beautiful poet, deep and profound, but also teasing and sometimes wry. In the simple poem, Play, he wrote:

Subtle, clever brain, wiser than I am,
by what devious means do you contrive
to remain idle? Teach me, O master.

And in Poem (As the cat), he wrote:

As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right
forefoot

carefully
then the hind
stepped down
into the pit of
the empty
flowerpot

In a more whimsical note, Williams wrote This is Just to Say:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

This morning as I showered, William’s “red wheelbarrow” came to mind, inexplicably. I just felt I should share it. You can read all of Williams’ poems here.