The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
– William Carlos Williams
I have written before about this marvellous little poem by William Carlos Williams which reminds us that our lives are made up of almost invisible fragments which really matter. So much depends on each minute detail in this insignificant picture of a rain washed wheel barrow standing next to some white chickens because if anything was changed (if the wheelbarrow was green or black or the chickens were orange or brown) this whole scene would never have existed.
The Red Wheelbarrow is my favourite kind of poem because it shines a light on the ordinary and transforms it into something extraordinary. Another American poet Carl Sandburg defines poetry as the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. That is the perfect definition of poetry for me – the exquisite and the prosaic mingled and muddled in a beautiful arrangement of words.
Centuries before Sandburg and Williams, the haiku poets of the Edo period in Japan set down their jewel like syllables in tiny poems like the one below:
Petal by petal
Yellow mountain roses fall
Sound of rapids
– Matsuo Basho
Here Basho presents us with a fleeting image which places as much importance on the almost invisible sound of falling rose petals as on the booming roar of a waterfall.
More recently, the work of the Australian poet, Robert Gray reminds us that each instant in our lack lustre lives has the potential to make us sigh or smile, to lift our hearts or cause them to ache a little, to make us laugh out loud or yearn for something inexplicable…
I have read this poem by him dozens of times because it is silly and wise and wonderful.
Weary, I tear open the shopping.
From newspaper waddles
on the table
like an irate duck
– Robert Gray
The first line encapsulates the sheer dullness of this moment – there is nothing exciting or dramatic about the mundane exhaustion of grocery shopping but how can we fail to chuckle with the poet at the ridiculous unexpected waddle of a melon on the table. The comparison to not just a duck but an irate duck is pure genius. The shape of the poem reflects the waddling roll of a melon – the long flow of the opening lines shortening suddenly in uneven jolts as the duck like melon wobbles to a stop.
Gray’s quirky metaphor transforms an ordinary, rather dreary moment into one of utter delight.
William Carlos Williams’ red wheelbarrow reminds us that each simple detail matters and Robert Gray’s waddling irate melon startles us into the realisation that a refreshing and absurd metaphor can change an everyday event from gloomy grey to sunshiny yellow.
So here is my first jumbly list of Red Wheelbarrow moments for 2016… they are as frivolous as a waddling melon, as necessary as white chickens and as significant as a scatter of rose petals…
On my noticeboard – a row of paper dolls made by a little girl in Broome to celebrate our families and a picture of me and my granddaughter, Mila – drawn by her for my birthday…
In my kitchen – two pretty English bone china mugs (perfect for tea) found at an op shop and a small unplanned still life with egg and lemon…
Near my home – this marvellous sculpture suspended against a cloudy sky at the National Gallery and quirky fragile gorgeousness in the window of the Glassworks…
On my daily walk around the lake – a snuggle of fluffy ducklings and the sky through leafy branches…
© Anita Patel, 2016