Poetry Friday: This is just to say (Williams Carlos Williams)

It might be Sunday, but I’m catching up on this post anyway ūüôā It’s been a very hectic week!

This is always an interesting poem to kick start a discussion on what a poem really, truly, IS. Often if you ask someone that question without any guidance, their list will include things like:

  • It rhymes
  • It’s got a rhythm
  • It’s got short lines

You might then, with a¬† bit of pushing and prodding, get to something along the lines of having more imagery, somehow, than a novel (though it’s often hard to define) and that it doesn’t usually tell a story.

This poem was, apparently (although who knows if it’s true) left on the fridge by Williams after he’d eaten some plums. It doesn’t fit any of the traditional rules for writing poetry other than the short lines and, to be honest, it could quite as easily be in one scribbled paragraph¬†– who’s to say, for the sake of argument, that it didn’t end up these line lengths because he was writing on the back of a receipt and was out of space!? It might have lines that look sort of similar, but when you actually break down the rhythm and syllables there’s no regular pattern to it at all.

But.

Some of the other definitions¬†of poetry include¬†provoking a response of some kind,¬†creating an image with language, creating an emotional response.¬†The imagist school of poetry Williams is usually classed as focuses on very clear, crisp images¬†– almost like bold brush strokes.¬†This certainly does that with the¬†“icebox” and those last lines: “delicious/so sweet/and cold.”¬†The line endings there focus the mind on the sensuous nature of the plums, the way they must have felt to bite into, and the sharp unexpected “cold” there right at the end.

As for creating a response – once you start looking at this as a note to a lover you share a home with, there’s something downright mischievous about the whole thing (or outright irritating depending on your viewpoint!) The “saving” alone in the second stanza suggests he knew all along that these were being kept for some specific intention, and that he’s robbing her of her breakfast – the line with “you were probably” extends too far for me; the “probably” is superfluous: he knew she was, and is making himself appear less sure to try to get away with it. The “Just” in the title is a hedge too – “oh, I was just thinking”, “would you mind just..” – ‘just’ is almost always used as a way of making whatever you’re about to say seem less serious. Is the “forgive me”, at the start of the last stanza, serious? Or is it completely negated by the luscious description that follows, without any hint of genuine remorse?

 

This is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and cold.

William Carlos Williams

What do you think?