The Red Wheelbarrow

The Red Wheelbarrow

The Red Wheelbarrow

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The Red Wheelbarrow is a poem by, and often considered the masterwork of, American 20th-century writer William Carlos Williams. The 1923 poem exemplifies the Imagist-influenced philosophy of “no ideas but in things.” This provides another layer of meaning beneath the surface reading. The style of the poem forgoes traditional British stress patterns to create a typical “American” image.

The subject matter of The Red Wheelbarrow is what makes it the most distinctive and important. He lifts a brazier to an artistic level, exemplifying the importance of the ordinary; as he says, a poem “must be real, not 'realism', but reality itself." In this way, it holds more in common with the haiku of Bashō than with the verse of T. S. Eliot.

Composition and publication

The pictorial style in which the poem is written owes much to the photographs of Alfred Stieglitz and the precisionist style of Charles Sheeler, an American photographer-painter whom Williams met shortly before composing the poem. The poem represents an early stage in Williams' development as a poet. It focuses on the objective representation of an object, in line with the Imagist philosophy that was only ten years old at the time of the poem's publication, (this is in no way proven). Williams' later works sacrifice some of this objective clarity in order to personalize the image for the reader. This is...
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