This Is Just To Say
By William Carlos Williams – 1883-1963
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
About the Poem
“This Is Just to Say” (1934) is an imagist poem by William Carlos Williams. The three-versed, 28-word poem is an apology about eating the reader’s plums. The poem was written as if it was a note left on a kitchen table. It has been widely parodied.
The poem appears to the reader like a piece of found poetry and has an odd structure. The poem’s meter or rhythm exhibits no regularity of stress or syllable count. Except for lines two and five and lines eight and nine, no two lines have the same metrical form. The consonance of the letters “Th” in lines two, three, and four, as well the consonance of the letter “F” in lines eight and nine, and the letter ‘S’ in lines eleven and twelve give rise to a natural rhythm when the poem is read aloud.
A conspicuous lack of punctuation contributes to the poem’s tonal ambiguity. While the second stanza begins with a conjunction, implying a connection to the first stanza, the third stanza is separated from the first two by the capitalized “Forgive.” In a 1950 interview, John W. Gerber asked the poet what it is that makes “This Is Just to Say,” a poem; Williams replied, “In the first place, it’s metrically absolutely regular… So, dogmatically speaking, it has to be a poem because it goes that way, don’t you see!” Critic Marjorie Perloff writes, “on the page, the three little quatrains look alike; they have roughly the same physical shape. It is typography rather than any kind of phonemic recurrence that provides directions for the speaking voice (or for the eye that reads the lines silently) and that teases out the poem’s meanings.” Additionally, this typographical structure influences any subsequent interpretation on the part of the reader.
Florence Williams’s (Williams’s wife) ”reply” to This Is Just to Say is included as a ‘Detail’ in the partially published Detail & Parody for the poem Paterson (a manuscript at SUNY Buffalo) first appearing in 1982. Since Williams chose to include the ”reply” in his own sequence, it seems likely that he took a note left by his wife and turned it into a ”poem.”
About the Poet
William Carlos Williams was born on September 17, 1883, in Rutherford, New Jersey. He began writing poetry while a student at Horace Mann High School, at which time he made the decision to become both a writer and a doctor. He received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, where he met and befriended Ezra Pound.
Pound became a great influence on Williams’s writing and, in 1913, arranged for the London publication of Williams’s second collection, The Tempers. Returning to Rutherford, where Williams sustained a medical practice throughout his life, he began publishing in small magazines and embarked on a prolific career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright.
Following Pound, Williams was one of the principal poets of the Imagist movement; though, as time went on, he began to increasingly disagree with the values put forth in the work of Pound and especially T. S. Eliot, both of whom he felt were too attached to European culture and traditions. Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh—and singularly American—poetic form whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people.
Williams’s influence as a poet spread slowly during the 1920s and 1930s, overshadowed, he felt, by the immense popularity of Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” His work received increasing attention in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor. His major works include Imaginations (New Directions, 1970); the five-volume epic Paterson, first published by New Directions in 1963 and rereleased in 1992; and Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (New Directions, 1962), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
Williams’s health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 and a series of strokes, but he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey on March 4, 1963.
March 28th, 2023 at 10:19 am
I liked this article. Even though my personal preference is for the T.S.Eliot new criticism school–disclaimer: I was a student of Allen Tate–I do enjoy Williams’ work. And the structural analysis was interesting since too often this is overlooked and some “poets” simply write prose and make it into stanzas. Here this is clearly not the case. Thanks for sharing this example of his work.
March 28th, 2023 at 10:29 am
I’ve always found this poet to be very interesting from the first time I read “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Imagining poems aren’t for everyone, but I find them quirky and interesting.
March 28th, 2023 at 10:25 pm
I find his ass to be very interesting. I’d be pleased to drink the fresh milk from his personal spigot.