Richard R. Frye: On "The Red Wheelbarrow"

In part, Spring and All manifests certain ontological reassurances. One of these is that the artist's relation to nature is not causal; Williams' poems become sullen in the company of Edmund Husserl's phenomenological applications. Instead, the different realms of nature and art are homologous; the former "possesses the quality of independent existence, of reality which we feel in ourselves. It is opposed to art but apposed to it" (121). Poem interrogates ontology; it begs the question—"is perception reality or figment?":

so much depends

  upon

a red wheel 

barrow

glazed with rain 

water

beside the white 

chickens

Hugh Kenner, in A Homemade World (1975), locates the poem's typographical "suspension system" in an imaginative zone as precarious as art; but Williams may be troping on an adjacent zone (59). Any special space that art inhabits implies another to which it is apposed; Williams, adducing from the synthetic cubists independent but homologous structures for nature and art, early in the twenties began calling that space the imagination:

Imagination is not to avoid reality, nor is it description nor an evocation of objects or situations, it is to say that poetry does not tamper with the world but moves it—It affirms reality most powerfully and therefore, since reality needs no personal support but exists free from human action, as proven by science in the indestructibility of matter and of force, it creates a new object, a play, a dance which is not a mirror up to nature but— (SAA 149-50)

One point that emerges from poem XXII is that there is a world to begin with for art to affirm; not that Williams possesses categorizations, etc. of a particular kind unnecessary for the poem to verbalize (Kenner's remark: "he has cunningly not said what depends"), but that "out there" are chickens, rainwater, and wheelbarrows to evoke; they aren't some purely solipsistic image. The ontological status of the image depends upon whether or not the poem constitutes a psychophysical event; for only then is it useful both as a psychological correlative and as a way of understanding human experience.

From "Seeing the Signs: Objectivist Premonitions in Williams' Spring and All." Sagetrieb 8.3

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Criticism Overview
Title Richard R. Frye: On "The Red Wheelbarrow" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Richard R. Frye Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 18 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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