Sunday Poetry: This is Just to Say, by William Carlos Williams

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

- by William Carlos Williams


This poem is supposedly the text of a note that William Carlos Williams actually left for his wife. Even though it talks of an icebox – a word gone anachronistic – and plums are too soft to be effectively marketed through agri-industry and are fading from familiarity, the poem has a conversational immediacy to it that brings a mix of reaction.

As a husband a few weeks away from a 27th anniversary, I’m struck by the breezy cruelty in his demand for forgiveness (not to be confused with an apology). Not only did I take what you wanted, they were awesome! His cluelessness about how to handle such a transgression helps explain why he was able to juggle careers as both a poet and a physician; I suspect his wife would grant him a good deal of solitude after such episodes of self-indulgence.

In this audio, you can hear William Carlos Williams acknowledge the magnitude of his sin (“the rape of the icebox”), read his widely-anthologized gem, and read his wife’s gentle response. For a great and humorous series of spoofs of the poem, go to the 49:40 mark on this episode of “This American Life”.

A certain obnoxious charm flows through this poem – the inability to withstand the near occasion of venial sin is a trait we all share. Similarly, his inability to honestly apologize for something he enjoyed so much, coupled with a desire to be forgiven, is something that any parent will recognize from the half-hearted forced apologies sometimes exchanged between siblings.

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