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
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
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
the top of
first the right
then the hind
into the pit of
In a more whimsical note, Williams wrote This is Just to Say:
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
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.
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