Peter Baker: On "The Red Wheelbarrow"

If one were to leave the importance of perception unnoticed, one would inevitably be baffled by some of Williams' more famous poems. One of his most famous and most misunderstood is numbered simply XXII in Spring and All (p. 138): . . . So much does this poem center on the perceptive faculty that one critic has recently called it a poem by someone afraid of his own thoughts. Yet as Robert Pinsky has shown for "The Term" and Albert Cook for "The Poor," quite a bit of intellectual power can be brought to bear on the detail, the ideas and the structural links between the two in Williams' poetry. In this poem a great deal depends on "depends"—one way of reading it is that everything "hangs" on the image presented as everything in the structure of the poem seems to hang on this word and its related preposition. On a thematic level, Williams is saying that perception is necessary to life and that the poem itself can lead to a fuller understanding of one's experience. One reason this poem has been ridiculed as well as revered is its apparent insignificance in the face of such a claim. Yet Williams is highly serious. As he says in "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" (PB, pp. 161-2):

                                It is difficult 

to get the news from poems 

                yet men die miserably every day 

                                for lack 

of what is found there.

This is one of his more prose-like statements of what he feels as his calling, what drives the poet.

From "Modern Poetic Practice: Structure and Genesis". New York: Peter Lang, 1986.

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Criticism Overview
Title Peter Baker: On "The Red Wheelbarrow" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Peter Baker Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 18 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Modern Poetic Practice: Structure and Genesis
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