Here is the well-known poem The Red Wheelbarrow, by William Carlos Williams:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
That’s the whole thing. The line-breaks are as in the original.
People have said good things about this poem. For example, Peter Baker wrote “one critic has recently called it a poem by someone afraid of his own thoughts […] Williams is saying that perception is necessary to life and that the poem itself can lead to a fuller understanding of one’s experience.”
I don’t get it.
But that doesn’t mean that I think there’s necessarily no “it” for me to get — one of my big discoveries in the last couple of years is that (a) if I “get” something that others don’t, that’s their loss; and (b) the obvious corollary, that if others “get” something that I don’t, that’s my loss. An example of the first category is Stewart Lee; an example of the second is, I must assume, Bob Dylan.
So I’d like to make up my loss. I’d like to understand what it is about poems like this that make them good. To help me understand what’s going on here, I wonder if commenters could answer a question: if instead of “beside the white chickens” he’d said “brown chickens”, would the poem be less because of that? Would the change destroy something fragile and perfect, or would the brown-chicken version be just as valid as the version he actually wrote?
Let’s go further: suppose the chickens were rabbits. Suppose the wheelbarrow was green. Suppose it was a lawnmower instead of a wheelbarrow. And suppose we joined up the seemingly-arbitrarily broken the lines. Suppose the poem went like this:
many things depend upon
a green lawnmower
glistening with dew
beside the brown rabbits.
Would that have the same qualities as the original? If not, why not? And if it would have been as good, then where is the craft in the original? And can there be art without craft?
Not trying to be a smart-alec — genuinely trying to expand my appreciation.