This is Just to Say

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

- William Carlos Williams

A 'found poem' in the form of a note left on the refrigerator door using a recurrence of personal pronouns instead of phonetics, This is Just to Say (1934) is also a typography left open to a wide variety of interpretations that veterans of marriage and cohabitation can enjoy as well as understand. Williams once recalled that this poem was an actual note he had written to his wife-"and she replied very beautifully" It provides directions for the eye that reads the lines silently and that teases out the poem's meanings.

Leonard M. Trawick in World, Self, Poem: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from the "Jubilation of Poets says it..... might suggest three possible readings. The poem could be concerned with the uselessness or self-entrapment of sexual desire, comparable to "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame." There's the potential Oedipal reading, with the boy thwarted in an attempt to comprehend his origin; to learn of it from his mother. Or there's the reading that would suggest self-referentiality; it is the poem itself that "means nothing."

A more subtle literary analysis by Charles Altieri in his essay Presence and Reference in a Literary Text: The Example of Williams debates the merits of this little poem as having a more sophisticated intent--

" that it creates and inhabits a middle ground between myths of presence, on the one hand, and Derridean absence, on the other, and functions as a speech act to affirm community and communication. A request for forgiveness for the small theft of some plums, the poem enacts the relationship, the relatedness with the wife, that permits the speaker to expect that he will be forgiven...."just saying"–it is an ordinary utterance, something just said, that, because of the way it calls the community, or marriage, into being, and creates the other in her freedom to forgive or withhold forgiveness, attains justness." Altieri writes that in the poem, "A strong sense of humanity ultimately prevails. . . . The justness of the speaker’s poem is its recognition of his weakness and its lovely combination of self-understanding with an implicit faith in his wife’s capacity to understand and accept his deed and, beyond that, to comprehend his human existence as a balance of weakness, self-knowledge, and concern"

Inspired by hunger playfully raiding the icebox like some Dennis the Menace caught on tiptoe with hands in the cookie jar, Williams admits to his Dagwood raiding of Blondie’s refrigerator, piling the stolen food high, to make one of his infamous midnight sandwiches. The narrative poem on the surface gives a glimpse into one of his slice of life poems on the subject of stealing plums in the words and moments he did steal the plums, stole them from his own icebox, stole them away from the breakfast that he might himself have had on them, reveled in the stealing and loved the confessing of stealing.

Much anthologized and frequently parodied (see:Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams) William Carlos Williams is Patron Saint of American Poetry and master of the ordinary phrase ....and for Flossie, in fair exchange one delightful poem for the plums she was saving.

Fisher-Wirth, Ann. "The Allocations of Desire: 'This Is Just to Say' and Flossie Williams's 'Reply.'" William Carlos Williams Review 22.2: 47-56. Osborn

CST approved.