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This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams, from THE COLLECTED POEMS: VOLUME I, 1909-1939, ©1938 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Book cover of The collected poems of William Carlos Williams
New Directions: New York, 1991; originally published in 1934.

“This is Just to Say” is a wonderful and detailed imagist poem by William Carlos Williams. After it was published in 1934, it became one of Williams’s most popular poems.

With only 28 words and no continuous rhyme scheme, no meter, and no punctuation, “This Is Just to Say” captures an innocent apology for eating “the plums that were in the icebox,” and yet it could mean much more. While many believe that the poem was a note written by Williams to his wife after indeed eating the plums that were in the icebox, others believe that the poem could represent a premature death of a loved one. The plums, while once here and being saved for breakfast, have now been eaten and no longer, well, exist. They are gone. This poem has been interpreted by many, and not one interpretation has been agreed upon. That is part of the beauty of this poem: it is an experience for each reader alone. One reader may see the poem as nothing more than an apology, and another could find another meaning within. The two might never agree, but for each, the meaning of the poem is theirs. That is the way in which we can all connect with this, or any, poem; it can be ours.

The speaker of the poem (either Williams or simply a fictional narrator), who is also responsible for eating the plums, explains the simple reasons for their temptation and ultimate consumption of the plums despite the fact they were (probably) being saved for breakfast. This tells us how much the writer wanted the plums, and how could we blame him? Many people would probably have done the same had they been faced with choosing between eating cold plums now versus allowing them to be saved for later. Nevertheless, the narrator asks for forgiveness. We can wonder what kind of guilt the plums have finally brought the narrator and hope that it was not too much. This poem allows us to connect with the narrator in hopes that he has not come to regret happily eating the sweet plums.

This poem, while lacking length, holds much more. It holds a strong connection with the imagination. With only the words “they were delicious / so sweet / and so cold,” we are able to picture and feel the plums Williams so simply and yet vividly describes. We can picture the plums, the icebox, the note. This short poem has a neverending ability to inspire the pictures that we can create in our minds. Williams’s considerate apology is everyone’s place for imagination.

Not only does this poem inspire imagination, but it inspires our senses. “Delicious,” “sweet,” and “cold” are all we need to feel the plums. The word “delicious” fills the mouth, much like plums and the word “plum” itself. Speaking the word “delicious” takes everything of the speaking mouth which is overwhelmed by the dynamic spectrum of movement the word requires. Eating plums requires much maneuvering of the mouth as well. Slowing the quick push intended to work through the skin is the first task, and carefully working around the pit is next. Speaking the word “delicious” takes a similar effort. We move through the “d” to immediately slow to prepare for the climactic “-licious” that we move through with great care. Now, I am not saying that Williams deliberately picked the word “delicious” because speaking it is similar to eating a plum (instead of picking the word because it is one of the more impactful ways of saying that something tastes good), but I can suggest that it certainly inspires the senses and helps the feeling of eating plums reach the reader.

“This is Just to Say” is a great poem—especially as far as poems with fewer than 30 words go!

Twyla Coburn reviewer of This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams
Twyla Coburn, 13
Portland, OR