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Interpretation of "The Red Wheelbarrow" must rely heavily on its visual imagery. There is the vague, casual beginning, "so much depends," then the images of the wheelbarrow and the white chickens. The reader might be justified in considering the poem merely flippant, or perhaps he might think that the poet intends only to entertain through images, that he asks us to imagine, from these juxtaposed images of red and white, a pleasing photograph or painting as we read. Yet the tone does not invite a dismissal of the generalized introduction. We wish to know what these things matter, to whom they matter.

The answer may be suggested by the poem's one metaphor: the wheelbarrow is described as glazed with rainwater—that is, shining, with a suggestion of hardness. The speaker sees the wheelbarrow immediately after the rain, when the bright sun has created the wheelbarrow's shiny surface and has made the chickens immaculately white. In nature, this scene occurs when dark clouds still cover a portion of the sky, often giving an eerie yellow—or blue—green tone to the landscape, a tone seen in the paintings of El Greco. In this short time after the rain has ceased, the chickens have emerged from whatever refuge they sought during the storm. They are reassured that they can begin normal living again and do so calmly (simply "beside" the wheelbarrow).

The metaphor "glazed" captures time in the poem. In a moment, the wheelbarrow will be dry, its sheen gone; yet the hardness suggested by the metaphor is not irrelevant. This moment is like others in life (of the chickens, the speaker, the reader). Periods of danger, terror, stress do not last. The glaze, like the rainbow, signals a return to normality or restoration. The poem creates a memorable picture of this recurring process; reflections upon its meaning may provide the reassurance that makes us more durable.


From "Glazed in Williams' 'The Red Wheelbarrow.'" Concerning Poetry 9:2 (1976).