William Carlos Williams is regarded as one of the most important and original American poets of the 20th century (“Columbia Encyclopedia”). He is said to be one of the first imagists to open the door into a whole new realm of poetry (Gleason). Williams is renowned for his groundbreaking style and for his depiction of life in his hometown of Rutherford, New Jersey. Basically, his poems are about the everyday lives of working people which was an unusual notion for his time (“Who2 Biography”).
Style and Technique
Williams wrote in varying styles and techniques and was often experimental. He experimented with many styles, including terza rima and free verse. Stylistically, Williams preferred the line over the sentence (“Brief Biography”). And because he was a doctor, it may have been the scientist in him which inclined him to use concise, concrete images and the homely words of everyday speech in his poems (“The Poetry of William Carlos Williams”).
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In 1923, Williams published in Paris his most important early collection, Spring and All. This collection contained some of his finest works including the poems The Red Wheelbarrow and Spring and All. The Red Wheelbarrow and Spring and All are just two of the many beautiful poems that Williams wrote. Both these poems are said to be manifestos about poetry (Hollander). The Red Wheelbarrow and Spring and All are two of Williams’ most popular imagist poems. Both poems are said to portray scenes from Williams’ own life. The Red Wheelbarrow was said to have been written by Williams in a child’s home while caring for a sick child. The poem was written by Williams in less than five minutes while observing a scene out of the window (Grimes).
The Red Wheelbarrow
The Red Wheelbarrow is said to be Williams’ attempt at escaping the confines of traditional poetry. His message is that all poetry does not need to be traditional (Gleason). This is why Williams employed a device which shows that poetry is not just about the conventional. Enjambment is the device used by Williams to create ambiguity, surprise, conversational accent and intrinsic movement in this poem. The Red Wheelbarrow was published in the year 1923. It consists of eight lines and sixteen words and each of the four stanzas has two lines. Unlike most poems, the Red Wheelbarrow is fairly straightforward. The red wheelbarrow is not a metaphor but a red wheelbarrow, nothing else (Metzger).
The Red Wheelbarrow is a still-life poem. Each word is a brushstroke to the poem. Williams uses an experimental structure in this poem and utilizes simplistic images to capture the essence of childhood, setting and technology. Through the use of language, Williams was able to convey a vivid, realistic perception of a wheelbarrow using unique spacing and pauses in the poem (“The Artistic Poe”). “The Red Wheelbarrow” is said to be Williams’ most anthologized and studied poem. He has taken a rather everyday scene, broken it up, and reassembled it into an art object (Hochman). The opening lines set the tone for the rest of the poem. The form of the poem is also its meaning, and at the end, the image of the wheelbarrow is seen as the actual poem, like a painting (“On the Red Wheelbarrow”).
Spring and All
Spring and All, meanwhile, was also published in 1923 and begins in a very straightforward set of words that cause the readers several impressions of the landscape being described. The poem could be seen as Williams’ response to the wasteland world of poverty and disease which he encountered a lot as a doctor (Stats). This is a poem of discovery, of the gradual emergence of the sense of spring from what looks otherwise like a disease of winter (Hollander). Williams’ interpretation of this wilderness of clouds, cold mud and dead plants gives it a stark beauty (Stats).
Spring and All is a short descriptive poem in free verse. The scene described is a muddy field populated by trees and bushes beside ‘the contagious hospital’. It is in Spring and All that Williams achieves the painted poem (Costello). Even the poem’s structure hints that spring is a rushing season when everything changes and becomes something different very quickly. The lineation creates the effect of a windy spring sky, the ‘blue mottled cloud’ changing so fast that the reader must pay close attention to distinguish ‘blue’ from ‘clouds.’ This genre of writing causes the reader to imagine very vividly what Williams is picturing for him or her, and also provides a better comprehension of his own feeling and thoughts at the time (Stats).
The Use of Enjambment in William’s Poems
Williams was a poet who experimented with new techniques of meter and lineation (“William Carlos Williams”). What connects both The Red Wheelbarrow and Spring and All is the fact that by the use of enjambment, Williams is able to create ambiguity, surprise, conversational accent and intrinsic movement in these poems.
In the Red Wheelbarrow, he creates ambiguity by simply by breaking the sentence in many parts, resulting to the fact that each broken phrase can be interpreted in more ways than one. In Spring and All, ambiguity is created by Williams by using the same style. The sentences are cut off in the middle to somehow ‘confuse’ the reader and then to reveal in the next line the full meaning of the thought.
In the Red Wheelbarrow, Williams create surprise by creating a single sentence and breaking it into small parts which consequently interrupts the readers’ train of thought and creates anticipation. The continuation of the train of thought is revealed in the next line. The first stanza states ‘so much depends upon’. This makes the reader think, ‘so much depends upon what?’ Williams reveals the answer in the next stanza which is ‘a red wheelbarrow’. After the reader visualizes a red wheelbarrow, he adds additional imagery by describing the wheelbarrow as wet and glazed with rain water. Finally he reveals that the wheelbarrow is situated in a farm because he mentions the white chickens standing beside the said wheelbarrow.
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In Spring and All, Williams create surprise in the poem by putting the reader in suspense. After saying ‘by the road to the contagious hospital’ the reader is left to think about what is next before he or she realizes that the thought is not finished yet. As a result, anticipation is felt by the reader before he or she then finds the answer in the next line.
Williams champions the American idiom and the local. He pays close attention to ordinary scenes, the working class and the poor. He reassembles and recreates what has become outworn with fresh vision and language (Graham). Williams create conversational accent by making both The Red Wheelbarrow and Spring and All free verse. This means that they are free of strictly planned meter. The writing is not metrical but rather conversational because there is no punctuation and feels like “flow-of-the-thought”. The words are placed so that reader feels as if the poet is conversing to him or her directly.
Intrinsic movement is created by Williams in The Red Wheelbarrow by the placement of the words which suggest the leap from one thought to another. In the first and second stanzas of the poem, the sentence ‘so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow’ is broken in the middle to suggest movement from one idea to another. The idea that ‘so much depends upon’ suddenly leaps to the idea of ‘a red wheelbarrow’. This is followed by the idea that the wheelbarrow is ‘glazed with rainwater’ and that it is ‘beside the white chickens’ in a farm somewhere.
Intrinsic movement in Spring and All, meanwhile, is shown also through placement of words by presenting first a picture of the road to the contagious hospital before moving to another image which is the blue mottled clouds and finally the waste of broad, muddy fields. After this the reader is introduced to the next image, suggesting movement in the poem which comes to play because of the lineation and the placement of words in the poem itself.
The use of enjambment in The Red Wheelbarrow and Spring and All is an effective way of bringing about ambiguity, surprise, conversational accent and intrinsic movement in the said poems. It is a style mastered by Williams, a style which has put authenticity and uniqueness into his poems. Abandoning traditional forms, Williams explored more flexible rhythms, including his radical use of enjambment which forces the reader to encounter, and therefore re-evaluate, such simple objects as wheelbarrows (“William Carlos Williams”). The extreme simplicity of the language as well as the precise placing of each visual element also typifies “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “Spring and All” as a Williams poem which is stripped of conventional symbolism. In the end, it is this style which sets apart these two poems from all the rest.
Williams was considered a groundbreaker during his time. Poems such as The Red Wheelbarrow and Spring and All are his legacy to poetry. His masterful use of enjambment allows these poems to be ambiguous, surprising, full of conversational accent and full of intrinsic movement. Needless to say, the style he used in these two poems was something that he and only he could master.
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