Read the following poem by William Carlos Williams.
Source: Wheelbarrow by the wall 024, tomylees, Flickr
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
You’re probably scratching your head now wondering what you’ve just read and why. William Carlos Williams often wrote small, spare poems crammed with imagery. The images in his poems are simple, but he asks the reader to consider what these images mean. He’s asking you to think in abstract terms about the imagery. You can find the concrete imagery in the poem easily—the red wheelbarrow, the rain, the water, and the white chickens—but he wants you to consider the imagery in abstract terms as well. That’s why he doesn’t give you any clues other than the first line, “so much depends.”
How and why does so much depend on the red wheelbarrow in the rain beside the white chickens? You might imagine a farm, and as you think about the farm, you might think about the importance of the wheelbarrow to the farm’s productivity, or you might expand your thinking so that you imagine how everything is connected. The wheelbarrow is connected to the chickens: the chickens are connected to the farm, and the farm is connected to the outside world. You moved from a few simple images to big ideas about the world. You moved from a concrete to an abstract idea.
Let’s read another small poem full of imagery by Amy Lowell.
Source: Barnes Pond, Nick, Wikimedia
Cold, wet leaves
Floating on moss-colored water,
And the croaking of frogs—
Cracked bell-notes in the twilight.
This poem is all about the images. The poet doesn’t provide you with a way to think about the poem as Williams does in the poem you just read. So what does Amy Lowell want us to do with this poem, aside from enjoy the imagery and make interesting pictures in our heads as we read? When you answer this question, you are moving into the abstract discussion of the poem. My guess is that she would like us to think about mood here. Imagine how you would feel as you look and listen to the pond she describes. You might begin thinking about the power that nature has to make us feel certain ways.
Now it’s your turn to write a poem similar to “The Red Wheelbarrow” or “The Pond.” You can use any subject you wish. Think about the images you want to use and decide what you want those images to convey to a reader.
Use your notes to write your response. When you're finished, check your understanding.
The Pink Bracelets
how little difference
my lucky pink plastic bracelets
lying all warm and snuggly
in my jewelry box
instead of on my
shivering goose-pimpled arm
in this cold, fluorescent lighted
The Camp Out
Hot smell of bacon
Crackling in the black iron skillet
And the burbling of coffee—
Civilized necessities in the wilderness