Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This is Just to Say...

"This is Just to Say"
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I read this poem and it really threw me for a loop. I know I've read it before in some English class somewhere, but I don't remember any discussion about it. I've done a little research and a lot of people seem to view it as having some metaphorical meanings. About the relationship between the author of the note (most seem to think that the poem is written in the form of a note) and who it is supposed to be to, latent sexuality, selfishness, etc.

Maybe my personal interpretation stems from me really liking happy endings and optimistic interpretations of things. I think it's beautiful and simple. I think it's even a little romantic. The author knows the other person was probably saving the plums for breakfast, but they eat them anyway. I felt like it was sort of about the give and take of love, because the author feels comfortable enough taking the plums and knows that they will be forgiven, and means to show how much the plums really gave him pleasure.

...But that isn't completely certain. They sort of issue a command, "Forgive me" as opposed to "I'm sorry." And once again, the author knew that the other person was probably saving them for breakfast. A friend of mine thinks that the author is even rubbing in the selfish act at the end. "So sweet," "so cold." It's a completely reasonable interpretation. It's a selfish act. I guess you can look at that selfish act in many different ways.

And I think that is sort of what makes it such a neat little poem; it is ambiguous and can be interpreted in a lot of ways, despite the fact that it is so sparse and bare bones.

My aunt is taking a poetry writing class at Kansas University, and the class used this poem for an exercise. The students were asked to replace words in this poem with other words and to watch the meaning of the poem change. I think part of the reason for the exercise was to show how much every word in a poem counts.

I have taken
the records
that were on
the bookshelf

and which
you probably

Forgive me
they were important
so quiet
and so warm

Does anyone else want to try? Thoughts on "This is Just to Say"?

This post will be cross-posted on my personal blog, Kaini Industries.



  1. Not to nitpick, but do you normally keep records on a bookshelf? If no, then yes, Williams got it right--every word counts.

  2. Haha, well I personally don't! I know people who do, though.

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  4. ATB, I think that I see very similar meaning to your poem as to Williams "This is Just to Say" regarding the romantic (in the sense of love) notion. One's personal psychological perspective matters and whether or not you are searching for a more optimistic ending or a conflicted one. I definitely viewed the narrative voice as being romantic or self conscious, rather than self absorbed. Being that both people mentioned in the poem wanted, or probably wanted, the plums (or the records) makes the consumption of the plums and records more innocent. Rather than if only the narrator gave in to his desire to eat or take something he wasn't supposed to consume. It makes sense that the poem was written in the form of a note, and if so, at least the writer was conscientious enough to write a note to begin with. When replacing words like you did, I find it difficult to come away from the heightened level of awareness that the narrator has for the person he is taking the plums or records from.

  5. When I wrote the poem about the records, I actually had in mind that it was from the perspective of someone who is in a breakup, maybe a divorce, and took the records in the splitting of assets. Relating to what we're talking about, I'm really glad that you another angle to it, an optimistic, romantic one. I think both of them are "right" in that sense. I believe the reader is just as important as the writer in this situation.