I used to hate poetry. I never understood it when I read it, and so I never read it. And if I can’t understand it when I read it, especially by the supposed masters, why write it?
Then I took a Modernism class in college, when one homework assignment, and the class session that followed, changed my life. It was here that I was introduced to the pure beauty of poetry, with a poem consisting of a single sentence. I have read many poems consisting of one sentence; the beauty of “The Red Wheelbarrow” written by William Carlos Williams, a minimalist poet, is in the first stanza.
So much depends
The rest of the poem consists of pure imagery. Each stanza has two short lines consisting of one big image, but each line consists of a smaller image. The restof the poem follows.
…the red/wheelbarrow//glazed in rain/water//beside the white/chickens.
The professor who taught my class has a pretty unique style. At the beginning of class he would spend five or ten minutes at the board and “lecture” about the class the day before, then sit down and was silent for the entire rest of the class; indeed, the class ran the class.
To break the awkward silence that always seemed to occur after the professor sat down, I mentioned this poem. What made this a poem? And what is up with that first stanza?
I really do not have a lot to say about this poem, other than it took up an entire class time of conversation for such a small ditty. But the class in its entirety seemed to agree on two items of critique:
- The first stanza makes the poem.
- The other stanzas completes the poem.
Except for the first stanza, the poem is all imagery. Simple imagery. Nothing fancy. But words are still selected with care, such as “glazed”. The first stanza makes the poem bigger than itself. “So much depends/upon…” Williams says everything about his subject, without revealing anything. The poem isn’t about the red wheelbarrow, it is about everything it stands for.