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'This Is Just To Say' (1934) is a mischievous free verse poem written by William Carlos Williams in the form of a note left for his wife, Florence. It is a few lines about plums, specifically chilled plums that got eaten. Don't let that put you off, there is a little more to it than that.
William's poem is pretty short and sweet, wrapping up in just three stanzas.
|This Is Just to Say|
|Written by||William Carlos Williams|
|Meter/Rhyme scheme||Free verse/variable foot|
|Frequently noted imagery||Plums (chilled)|
The poet eats the plums that his wife put in the ice box.He presumes that she must have intended to eat these plums herself, so he writes her a poem telling her that he ate them and that they were really good. He also asks for forgiveness, although the entire apology is more amusing than genuinely repentant.
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
William Carlos Williams was born in New Jersey to an English father and a Puerto Rican mother of multiracial ancestry. He became a pediatrician, novelist, essayist, and poet. This is a rare combination, but it meant that he could write whatever he wanted without having to depend on it to make a living.
Along with Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle aka HD, he was a member of the Imagists movement. John Keats and Walt Whitman initially influenced his poetry, but he developed his unique style after meeting Ezra Pound. He commented on this meeting, saying,
Before meeting Pound is like B.C. and A.D. 1
By 1917 and the publication of his third book, Al Que Quiere! (1917), he had nailed the key Imagist principle.
The direct treatment of the thing, whether subjective or objective.
Poetry at the time lagged behind other artistic fields in terms of breaking down the traditional structures and forms that were accepted as 'correct' or academic. The Imagists challenged conventional structures, themes, and language within the genre. Williams made extensive use of free verse and his version of metre, variable foot.
The Imagists were a movement within poetry. They sought to simplify poetry, to strip out unnecessary words and to be direct in their depiction of both subjective or objective 'things'. Williams would later be a huge influence on the Beat Generation of poets and novelists. The Beats also worked to modify existing poetry into a more accessible, everyday art form from the 1940s through to the 1960s.
Variable foot was a metre created by Williams. It is based on the idea that each line corresponds to one single breath unit. He finalised this approach across works in The Desert Music (1954) and Journey to Love (1955).
On the surface, this is a very simple poem, written about a pretty mundane domestic event involving some plums. Williams made a career out of writing poems about subjects that were not considered traditionally poetic. He also wrote in a structure and tone that were not considered traditionally poetic either.
Generally, his work is not very grand. The themes concern everyday life and the structure is plain.
The poet chooses to eat the plums, even though he seemingly knows that the other person might have set them aside for themselves. He also chooses to confess and to make a whole poem out of his quirky little apology.
I have eaten
that were in
the icebox (1-4)
you were probably
for breakfast (6-8)
These lines clearly show the reader that Williams made his choice to eat the plums, despite his assumption, and then made his choice to confess, apologise, and ask for forgiveness.
The nature of the relationship between the poet and the owner of the plums is never explicitly mentioned. However, the tone of the poem, with its casual familiarity, indicates they know each other well. The detail of the shared icebox tells us that they share a kitchen, at least.
Outside of the poem, we know that the note is for William’s wife, nicknamed Flossie. Even without this knowledge, it is clear that the two people are close and probably share a home. The fact that Williams had to leave a note also indicates that he and his wife had different schedules they used various forms of communication to overcome.
There is a separateness that comes in having to leave a note rather than telling Flossie in person. The off-hand tone and humour in the poem indicate an easy understanding between the two, which contrasts that temporary physical separateness in a typically Imagist way.
After eating the plums, Williams confesses and mentions forgiveness. The admission that he thought they might not be for him at that time and that they were delicious is quite teasing, especially as he ate all of them. It is not a very convincing apology, nor a really serious request for forgiveness.
they were delicious
and so cold (9-12)
When considering this last theme, it is worth reading Flossie's reply for some context on this poem and its cheeky admission of enjoyment. She is obviously not at all bothered about not having any plums.
Reply (crumped on her desk)2
Dear Bill: I've made a couple of sandwiches for you. In the icebox, you'll find blueberries--a cup of grapefruit a glass of cold coffee. On the stove is the tea-pot with enough tea leaves for you to make tea if you prefer--Just light the gas-- boil the water and put it in the tea. Plenty of bread in the bread-box and butter and eggs-- I didn't know just what to make for you. Several people called up about office hours--
See you later. Love. Floss.
Please switch off the telephone.
Do you think that Williams ever actually assumed that the plums were not also for him? How does her reply change your reading and understanding of William's poem?
Williams uses some subtle devices with multi-layered meaning to create rhythm and cohesion in this poem. Although it is only 28 words long and written in plain English, there are plenty of nuances to notice.
Enjambment is when lines run into the next line, across a line break, with no use of punctuation. All of the lines are run-ons in 'This Is Just To Say'.
In addition, other than a couple of capital letters, this poem makes no use of punctuation at all.
Sibilance is the repetition of letters that have a long 's' or slightly hissing quality to their sound. You can spot this throughout the poem, starting with the title.
This is Just to Say
they were delicious
Read these three lines together. Do you think that Williams used this literary device to link these groups of words deliberately? Consider his wife’s reply.
It is possible to see many deeper meanings or types of symbolism in this poem if you choose to. Many critics have done so already. For example, the plums might symbolise temptation. The note may symbolise separateness. The apology might even symbolise a larger confession or an attempt at redemption for Williams' affairs with other women.
How would the playful, 'sorry, not sorry' tone of the poem help convince Flossie that Williams was actually sorry for having affairs?
Considering William’s stance on breaking the rules of what he termed 'classroom poetry’, he also might have just meant it as it is. Williams and the Imagists wanted to directly depict everyday American life. Nothing spectacular. Nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps he did that with 'This Is Just To Say'.
It could just be a seemingly simple, insider joke in the form of a thank you note disguised as a poem.
William Carlos William was a doctor, novelist, screenwriter, and poet.
He, along with HD and Ezra Pound founded the Imagist movement, which sought to depict ‘a direct treatment of the thing.'
The Imagists chose to portray simple everyday things in simple everyday language, often using a juxtaposition of two things. They moved away from traditional poetic structures and devices.
'This Is Just To Say' is considered a found poem, as it is a note left for his wife after he ate all of the plums in the icebox.
There are many readings of the poem, with the simplest being that it was a poetic thank you note for the plums.
1 'A retrospective and a Few Dont's,' Poetry Foundation, 2020.
2 Anne Fisher Worth, The Allocations of Desire: 'This Is Just to Say' and Flossie Williams's 'Reply' (Penn State University Press, 1996).
Depending on your reading, it is either an apology note or a thank you note. Or both, as he ate all of the plums.
It is an example of an Imagist, variable foot poem.
This depends on your reading but he could be saying thank you, apologising, or both. He is also intending to express his enjoyment of the plums.
There is an element of humour in his tone and intent.
Williams Carlos Williams eventually called this style of poem a variable foot but it is also referred to as free verse.
The rhythm is not set to traditional metres.
Major themes include relationships, communication, apologies, forgiveness, and choices.
What other professions did William Carlos Williams have?
He was a doctor, novelist and a poet.
What is the tone of 'This Is Just To Say'?
What poetic devices does 'This Is Just To Say' use?
Enjambment and sibilance.
What is the most frequently noted or key imagery?
Plums, chilled plums.
What is 'This Is Just To Say' about?
The poet eats all of the plums that his wife left in the ice box.
He assumes that she might have intended to eat these plums herself, so he writes her a poem telling her that he ate them and that they were really delicious. He also sugests that she forgive him, although the entire apology is not very repentant or serious.
When was 'This Is Just To Say' written?
What movement does 'This Is Just To Say' belong to?
The Imagist movement.
What is the name of the meter that William Carlos William's invented?
Which poet had a profound influence on William Carlos William's Imagist style?
Who is the third Imagist poet related to William Carlos Williams?
Hilda Doolittle, aka HD.
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