Poetry Blather: William Carlos Williams’ Red Wheel Barrow

I am sometimes frustrated by poems that do not say what they mean.

Consider this.

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

As an exercise in imagery, it works very nicely. You can see it in your mind. And as an exercise in rhythm, it’s nearly hypnotic.

But what
the gibbering hogwash
does it mean?

By which I mean, I need the first line explained to me. What depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens? What, and why is there so much of it? I get the whole “no ideas but in things” dictum, but we have the things. They are clearly spelled out. What are the ideas in them? That so much depends on them? But that doesn’t tell me anything.

Mary Oliver:

Perhaps Williams is implying that the imagination comes alive in the world of things–of objects. Perhaps he is saying that the poem, to become radiant, needs images, and images always involve things.

This is plausible. But only plausible. It is speculation. It is “Perhaps”. And that drives me back to non-communication. If you’re not telling me what you mean, implicitly or explicitly, while telling me that it means something very much indeed, then my instinct is to roll my eyes and proclaim you a purveyor of obtusity or offal.

And maybe the point is that the Great Something in Things cannot be communicated. That’s fine. But I hate guessing at it.


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