The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.
There’s more than a slight chance that you’ve seen this poem before and have been asked to interpret what it means. My seventh grade English teacher had us read this and share our thoughts. Needless to say, we didn’t have many outside of what was explicitly written on the page.
This poem is most widely believed to pay homage to simplicity as is found in the things described: a plain red wheelbarrow, some white chickens, the rain, etc. It is also interpreted as meaning that the world depends upon the farming industry to which we give little to no notice. Both of these ideas are correct, and are probably what William Carlos Williams was trying to convey. Nonetheless, I have what my teacher, Mr. Monaghan, calls a “wacky” interpretation.
I believe this poem to be about pregnancy and the female reproductive system.
The red wheelbarrow, in this case, represents the uterus. Wheelbarrows are accompanied with the concepts of strength and capacity, and what is stronger or holds more important cargo than a uterus?
The rainwater referenced in the poem is, for all intents and purposes, male seminal fluid. I find this to be very telling in this specific interpretation because it implies the autonomy of the female body, and that with or without a man to verify her strength a woman is nonetheless strong and full of worth.
The white chickens, in my opinion, represent other women who will not have sex and judge the woman represented by the wheelbarrow. (I interpret “beside” to mean “in opposition to” rather than “next to.”) The color white is very often found in literature and poetry to represent purity, innocence, and virginity. Chickens, however childish this may sound, mean cowards– people afraid to have sex. These women are not included in the importance of the singular one mentioned because the woman versus woman discourse is entirely counterintuitive to the overarching meaning of this piece.
I saved explication of the first line for last because I believe it encases the overarching theme referenced above, which is: humanity. “So much depends upon” women. Not only does the next generation and the generation after that and so forth depend on females to produce them (of course with the assistance of males), but the love mothers give their children that encourage them to reproduce and bring more people into the loving world that their mother has created for them. I like to assume this woman is unmarried, as the strength of single mothers is simply unmatched and tend to be more compassionate to make up for the absence of a father figure.
I know this may seem silly, and surely not what W.C.W. intended, but being one of the most if not the most debated pieces of poetry, I thought I’d put in my two cents on what it could very well mean. If you read this far, thanks for doing that. Leave me a comment! Thank you!