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Friar’s E-Spirations: The Red Wheelbarrow: An Image to Contemplate

A brief and simple poem by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), gives us an unusual image to delight in. In my previous E-spiration (January 26, 2011), I offered several short Scripture passages for readers to ponder or contemplate. In a similar way, I offer here, for your heart’s enjoyment and contemplation, “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Williams’ poem provides a fresh, simple “word picture,” which the reader can simply enjoy for its own sake without needing to analyze further. Just as I presented in last month’s E-spiration—the image of a loving couple enjoying and contemplating the setting sun—now we can stand in awe before a “red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens” and marvel about that wondrous image. I read somewhere that Williams wrote “The Red Wheelbarrow” rather quickly while looking out the window at the precious scene described in his poem.

The Poem Evokes Wonder

In this poem, Williams Carlos Williams seems to be telling us that “so much depends upon” our having a sense of wonder as we observe the simple beauties of life and nature, as well as the beauties discovered in art and literature. Some years ago, my Franciscan confreres and I had a Franciscan literature teacher whom we deeply admired. During our seminary college years, this teacher often said, “Great literature does not save the soul; it makes the soul worth saving.”

Williams may have also wanted to say “so much depends upon” our being able to sit down before truth like a child and see the value in something, not because it can be used or manipulated for our selfish gain, but because of what it isin itself—because it has an intrinsic, God-given beauty or value.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I first became acquainted with this poem in a literature class at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the early 1960s. For some reason, my memory still holds on to this rare gem. Maybe some of you reading this have thoughts of your own to share regarding the poem. I welcome your comments and insights!

Friar Jim: Thank you for the wonderful reminder of marital commitment and faithful service to my spouse and my children. I also thought of the “sandwich generation,” those who take care of aging parents and teenagers/young adults. Even though my mother did not always recognize me as her daughter, the gifts of those times together were precious. It is in giving that we receive. Rosalie

Friar Jim: I’m happy reading about this topic because I was thinking that only those who are perfect and without sin are the faithful ones. Reading your explanation has given me opportunity to always try my best. Priscilla

A: Rosalie and Priscilla: Thanks for your responses. Perfection is not possible on this earth. We strive to do the best we can with a good heart, and the Lord loves us for our efforts. Friar Jim