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This Is Just To Say -- William Carlos Williams

       
(Poem #274) This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.
-- William Carlos Williams
I remember this as the first Imagist poem - indeed, the first 'modern' poem of
any sort - that I ever read. Having been schooled on Wordsworth, de la Mare and
Rossetti [1], it came as a bit of a shock to me when I stumbled upon Williams'
laconic beauty in an anthology discovered at a relative's house, one summer
vacation many years ago. This, poetry? Where were the rhymes? Where were the
sunsets and flowers and cute furry animals? Where was the Good Advice for the
Younger Generation [2]? And what was the poem about, anyway?

As faithful readers of my posts have no doubt realized by now, it was the
beginning of a lifelong affair. Recent excursions into the Romantics, the Beats,
the Movement and the Elizabethans notwithstanding, Eliot, Pound, Williams and
their ilk remain among my favourite poets...

thomas.

PS. Oh, you wanted commentary on the poem? I'm sorry, why didn't you say so?

[1] Good poets all; don't get me wrong.
[2] To use Martin's elegant phrase :-)

[Minstrels Links]

A Williams biography can be found at poem #83 along with the first poem
of his to be run on the Minstrels, 'The Red Wheelbarrow'.

Another typical Williams slice-of-life is 'The Artist', which you can read
at poem #213

More on Imagism can be found in the essay accompanying Amy Lowell's
'Generations', Minstrels poem #102, at poem #102

One of my favourite poems by an Imagist poet is Ezra Pound's 'The River
Merchant's Wife: A Letter', which you can read at poem #70

And of course, you can read all our other poems at
http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/

58 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Hon Quach said...

I like this poem too!

Joseph said...

Could it be that the meaning of the poem has nothing to do with love? Could it be that he is trying to say Forgivness is easier to obtain then getting what you want so either stop taking advantage of peoples willingness to forgive or to make forgivness harder to obtain?

Joseph

Sebastian Esser said...

· Tone: Is he really sorry? Apologetic? Triumphant? Smug? Tactful? Amused? Good humored?

· Is this a real poem? What makes it worthwhile?

Klmcc101 said...

This is not a nice person! He at the plums he KNEW you were saving for
breakfast, barely makes a decent apology, and then gloats over the wonderful
way they tasted. This guy is not a great guy!
Try Kenneth Koch's poems in tribute to this one...cannot remember the names,
but it really makes one understand this work by WCW.

Benita Kape said...

This is an exciting little poem. Doing our own versions of this poem in a workshop recently was a liberating experience for each of us I am sure; or, at least it seemed so to me because everyone laughed in a way which suggested no embarrassment whatsoever.

Re-reading my version I ended up with 5 lines in the final stanza and looking at that it probably needed to be the words of the first line that needed to be dropped. Yes, that is; the words Forgive me. But then I wish it was so simple a thing as a bowl of plums about which I chose to write.

Sure it was a terrible thing the poet did. But there is a place in the world for such expressions; and for the lame apology followed by the pathetic excuse. Put in this way it is little more than a redeemable prank, especially if his flatmate/partner/whoever can wheedle a sumptuous dinner in return.

That's why it works. It is such a universal picture - and so easily remembered.

Helen

Anthony Morgan said...

I beleive the poem symbolizes the first sin of man in the garden. The plum realy is a fruit, as in the fruit of my loins, the sound of the "s" is stressed in the poem bringing to mind the snake representing the devil. Forgive me brings to mind a mistake was made, or to simplify Adam made the mistake by eating the apple from the restricted tree.
Adam was the fruit of gods loins, the snake came "s", Adam ate the apple forgive me.

Sue Charles said...

I have to go to a wedding shower today with a kitchen theme and I'm supposed
to bring a recipe or poem or reading. I'm bringing this poem. I don't know
if it really is about love or fruit but I like it.

Don José said...

I read this as being a bit simpler more so than deep. My family and I leave
notes for each other all the time. I immediately thought of this as being a
note, perhaps from husband to wife, being left as the husband leaves for
work. If the title is prefixed to the first line, and the lines not broken,
it's just a simple little note.

And I thought it so sweet. I have had family members eat my food -- food I
was looking forward to eating, only to go for it and find out it's gone, to
my chagrin and surprise. Anger then sets in, and confrontation ensues. How
much nicer it would be! if the culprit left a simple note alerting me to the
indulgence, instead of absconding. Moreover, I wouldn't mind it if I knew
that the person enjoyed eating it. Perhaps then, on this level, it is about
love.

Interestingly, I came upon this poem in an anthology recently, and was
looking to see if it had been run here yet. It was alongside "January
Morning," another WCW piece I like. Perhaps I'll submit that in a bit.

DJ

Saulo Domingues Marinho said...

I guess it doesn't matter what the author meant. There are many possibilities but each one has one's opinion. I think the REAL question here is: Why can this little note be considered a poem?
In my opinion, his word selection is what creates the poetic effect. The apparent simplicity calls our attention at first. Then, we start to image the situation itself. It seems so soft and sweet, as a plum is. The irony is revealed with such words as these: "ice-box", "cold" and "they were delicious" right after "Forgive me". The poem tells a story and means the opposite, and it has fake and true tips, these are negative ones and those positive ones.

Carolyn McGrath said...

I like the discussion this poem has generated and the diversity of responses
are what makes this "note" a poem (and a successful one at that). I remember
being given this to read at school and feeling shock that this was a poem a
teacher thought we should study! It was exciting that it was so accessible
and everyone then felt free to comment on it too and to speculate on the
relationship between the I and the you. Was the thief forgiven? We would
never know, but we all searched for clues and decided (in our teenage
hormonal state) that it was a sexy poem - the sensuality of the
apology/justification expressing a confidence that "you" must understand the
impossibility of "I" ever resisting such temptation - by putting them in the
icebox, you have only yourself to blame!

Carolyn

Leniad said...

It's a little known fact that WCW actually wrote two more verses to
this poem, which i've reproduced below in their entirety:

I am sorry but
if you really
wanted them

you would have put
your name
on them.

Martin Mak said...

This poem is simply direct and explicit. I have not yet seen a poem in which
possess the simplistic qualities of this poem. Moreover, the way in which
the thoughts and emotions were conveyed were expressed in a very plain
manner. In addition, I also like the way in which the verses are
interrelated, one stanza is connected to the next which makes it more
interesting to read.

Martin Mak

Nora Ghaoui said...

This poem also inspired the famous MIT error message found at [broken link] http://anxiety-closet.mit.edu/junk
404 File Not Found
I ate your Web page.
Forgive me. It was juicy
And tart on my tongue.

Brilliant!

Nora

Eric Savlin said...

See, that's what makes a poet different: "tart" is all wrong, tart wouldn't
fit. If he used "tart" we would have an acidic taste in our mouths, instead
of cool purple plums. And a little moment would have gotten more complicated
than necessary, more complicated than we desire, because it's more
complicated than we want already. I like the plum.

Erik Barnes said...

Could it be that everyone who likes this poem, and indeed, this poet,
reads into it and him what they hope to find? Could it be that this
poem is absolute crap, devoid of any real meaning we don't give it? I
don't know for sure, but it sure seems so to me.

Jennifer WIlliams said...

I myself love poetry and write some myself I am only 14 year old but I think the poems could rhyme. rhyming helps the rhythm go smoother and defines it more. I didn't check if you wrote with a number pattern I've actually tried going something like, 7 8 7 8 7 8 7 8 it just didn't have a good Rythem even when rhyming! But if you change it like to a certain type, I'm always bad with the names, like... well 4453 or something like that it could be really good. If your writing funny poetry like some of these its also good to rhyme it almost makes it more cheerful and not like your just trying to draw a picture in someone's mind, like done in those with the Rose and what not. I don't know. There good Ideas I like how you've thought of them! I always have a struggle with topic, I'm religious so usually I find myself writing on God and nothing else, I hoped by reading poetry it would help broaden my mind, thanks, hope I helped! Jenn

Del & Debbie Rempel said...

i think that adding rhyming to this poem would ruin its sensibility and
seeming straightforward quality. the author obviously wanted it to sound
like a note. to me it seemed to be a playful guesture between two people who
were very close be they married or room-mates it doesnt really matter, in
the last stanza you can almost see the joking smile on the face of the
author as he thinks of the person reading it. and the ability to paint a
picture with words without throwing them into a childlike sing songy manner
is an ability which just shows the excellence of the writer. I love this
poem because of its ability to be straightforward, not necessarily funny but
smile-inducing nonetheless.

Josef N. Callaway

Basralian Joseph said...

My poem is not as good, and it is more clearly about love & comfort
rather than mystery, but here it is:

Mid-afternoon Autumn

I see you used a banana
since there are four or three of them now,
yellow and brown-spotted,
softening on our countertop.

It must have made it into your oatmeal
which smelled sweet
and resembled custard.

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Adam Wakeling said...

I believe that the poem certainly represents the fall of man, but
consequently the fall of the speaker - Williams. His intellectual
superiority was very concious in his mind and the poem represents Williams
temptation to write self elevating poetry that tells the word of his
intelligence - of which he succumbs to.

jim said...

This is Just to say that this alleged poem barely qualifies as a competent post it note. What is wrong with you people? A flood of fools in gowns say it's a poem and millions fall for it. The man chanced his arm - wondered just how far the sheepheads would go - and must have been stunned by the result. It is composed of 2 banal sentences relined. Wake up folks the academic world is full of this drivel. jim

Ps If Williams had issued a relined version of this comment in response to the literary world's hailing of this so-called poem, it would have been hailed as a work of genius, comparable with Dante or Eliot that's how far off the tracks they've strayed. Come on folks, believe in yourselves. Trust your minds. It is exactly what it looks and sounds like: a note of no consequence!

Ron & Christine Burkett said...

wow that was stupid that is the worst poem i have ever read!!!

Lisa Neidt said...

I read this poem in a required high school course. I didn't get it.
So what? The guy ate some plums. I read this poem as an undergraduate
studying English literature. I sure thought I got it. The symbols. The
deep, understated, message. I read the poem as a grad student studying
writing. Didn't get it; just wanted to write it. Now. Ten years since
my grad school envy. My husband comes downstairs from his shower and
reaches into the microwave for the spicy black tea he left to brew.
Sorry, I explain, I drank the tea. God was it good.
I'm not sure I "get" what William Carlos Williams wanted to say in
his poem, but I know what I got from it. Sometimes it just tastes
better when taken from the cache of a loved one. Tod upstairs in his own
steamy shower and I'm downstairs curled around his mug of warm spicy
morning tea. And he'll call me a jerk for drinking his tea but he'll
love me and forgive me. And he did call me a jerk and I remembered W.C.
Williams and his plums and I laughed.

Trudy Nye said...

Please..when I first read this "poem" almost 40 years ago, it enraged
me..and prompted me to write the following response:

This is Just to Say

Although

William Carlos Williams

May spatter

Random thoughts

Across a page,

That is

NOT

A poem.

For the record, I am similarly unimpressed by The Red Wheelbarrow. The
undue applause this poem and that have received seems to me to be a case of
pseudo-literati trying to be ever so clever in showing off their
interpretive abilities, or perhaps in a state of altered consciousness?

John said...

One commenter wrote: "This poem is simply direct and explicit."
Is it?
Some food for thought:
- Who is the writer/the voice of this poem?
- What is the relationship between the two people?
- When did he eat the plums?
- How many plums were there?

And of course, try to find textual support for your position.
I think the number of plums is implicitly stated in a fairly clever manner.
Great poem.

jOhn

Daniel Deemer said...

Interpretation by Daniel Deemer:

As one first glances at William Carlos Williams’s poem This Is Just to
Say the reader immediately notices that the poem is short and simple
in structure. This simple structure reflects Williams’s style of
writing, as his poems were often inspired by simple everyday
experiences. The structure and poetic elements Williams chooses to
use speak to his theme that often times people do things that are
wrong and hurt others, but because of the rewards they receive, they
do no regret what they did, and are not truly sorry.
With only three stanzas’ of four lines each, William’s poem uses very
simple diction and makes absolutely no use of punctuation. It seems
probable that Williams intentionally ignored the punctuation rules of
the English language to help create a certain feel. Williams wrote
the poem as a quick apology note, and the lack of punctuation
reinforces the reader’s interpretation that the poem was written
quickly. As if leaving a note for a roommate or family member, there
are few who bother with proper punctuation in such a situation.
Because the poem is so short, lacks punctuation, or any other real
poetic devices, it is easy to imagine Williams writing the poem
quickly on a scrap piece of paper and leaving it on the counter.
Williams only uses capitalization twice in his poem, first in line one
he capitalizes “I” and in line nine the word “Forgive” is
capitalized. Williams no doubt did this to add a hint of emphasis.
By capitalizing the “I” in line one he is accepting responsibility and
openly admitting that it was he who ate the plums. The capital “I”
helps emphasize the admittance the wrongful act in the first stanza.
In the second stanza Williams acknowledges that the plums were not for
him, but rather someone ealse was saving them. The fact that there is
no capitalization used in this stanza helps the reader understand that
Williams did not take this into consideration as he ate the plums. In
the ninth line and the beginning of the third and final stanza,
Williams capitalizes the “Forgive”, this is done to emphasize what it
is exactly that Williams’s intentions are in writing the poem, and
that is to gain forgiveness. Lines ten through twelve however utilize
some fairly simple sensory imagery to describe his experience as he
ate the plums. It is these lines that point to Williams true tone and
feelings regarding eating someone else’s plums. In the last stanza
the twentieth century poet only uses two words to imply that he is
sorry, and uses eight words of sensory imagery to describe how much he
enjoyed eating the plums. Williams using two words in the entire
poem, small as it is, shows that the poem is not a genuine apology.
Describing the snack as “delicious, so sweet, and so cold” leaves the
reader with a positive impression of the experience. Williams created
this positive image at the end of his poem to leave the reader
pleased. Much like the way he perhaps felt after he had eaten the
plums. This implies that although Williams knew it was wrong of him
to take the plums, he does not regret the decision, and therefore is
not truly sorry. Had the poet constructed the poem in reverse order,
by describing the enjoyable plums in the first stanza, then using the
second and third stanzas to acknowledge that is was wrong and
apologize would have left the reader with perhaps a guilty feeling,
which would indicate true sorrow. The structure that Williams chose
to use shows his true feelings and intentions in writing the poem, as
the order of the stanzas and what they mean, effect what the reader
feels.

-Daniel Deemer

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I encountered and read this poem. I find poetry difficult to interprete, however, because "This Is Just To Say" is short and sweet I find it quite meaningful. It is an opoligetic message in a very simple way and despite the fact that it is short it conveys a powerful thought to the recipient because if the speaker were insensitive he would have simply ate the fruit and left it at that...no message of opology. I enjoyed the poem, note, what ever it deems to the reader, it is a great piece of work.

03/21/10

Anonymous said...

This is not a poem actually, it's a note he wrote on a narrow piece of paper for a friend. This has also happened to me in the past.

Anonymous said...

this poem is lol fail

Willowisperer said...

Oh but it is a poem.
It is a poem about temptation.
It is a poem about seizing the moment, reaching for something that satisfied and quenches a need; our heat; our thirst for juicy bits of life.
Lastly it is a poem about guilt for that is what it is to be human - the consumer of things sweet and cold and tempting we can never replace
except with the words of a poem. Which transforms the moment.

Gersonsalas said...

Plums: Virginity
Breakfast: MArriage

At the end he said: "so sweet, so cold" He liked it, but it was cold (which is negative) which can be interpretated as "rape"

Anonymous said...

It is necessary that this be posted here.
http://www.giraffeboards.com/showthread.php?t=14446

Anonymous said...

WCW was plum crazy, Man! Him and his wheelbarrows and shit...

Anonymous said...

LOL to you idiots that take it too seriously.


maybe it was about plums
maybe a greater message

either way, dont get bend outta shape. read something else.

Anonymous said...

What kind of poem is it?
It is very good and well written and all I am wondering is what kind of poem is it? Thank you for the people who answer this =)

Anonymous said...

This IS a poem that has stuck in my head for about 40 years (I think). I love it. A poem expresses ideas in words. It touches our feelings in some way. When I read this poem I imagine the coolness, juiciness, sweetness of the plums. I feel happy, satisfied, sated ..... and I think of my STINKING brother who used to hoard his Easter eggs for weeks after Easter; taking them out periodically and nibbling them tauntingly in front of the other kids in the family and how good it felt to go to the fridge and eat his eggs as a very definite act of revenge AND then the smug apology that solved nothing!!
WCW portrayed this whole scene in those few words. So clever.

Anonymous said...

wowwwwwwwwwwwwwww...
lol

Anonymous said...

Fake and gay

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Laura [Novelbite] said...

I think the poem is about our need, as humans, to be recognized. I recently wrote about this poem on my site, www.novelbite.com. And I baked a plum tart to go with it. :) Thanks for the post...

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Amy John said...

I think that William's was using the expressions of mockery. At first, it is apologetic and I thought it was too, but the last stanza is mocking the target audience. It is basically saying, "I enjoyed mocking you!" in plain text.

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