58. This Is Just to Say: Williams Carlos Williams

I enjoy William Carlos Williams because he exposes those who do not, cannot or will not go beyond the “plot” of the poem.

“What is this poem about?” I ask.

“A guy who ate someone’s plums.” I hear.

“That’s it?” I ask. “Why did he write it?”


“Why is this one of the most famous poems of American literature?”


And so on. We talk about guilt and remorse, but most students also feel that the speaker would easily do it again (so, s/he’s not really sorry). It’s a poem to go deep with. There is no hiding. Because nothing happens its sounds stupid to say “It’s just about some plums” because it is clear that SOMETHING more has to be happening.

Ironically, as an Imagist, the plums and the poets uncertainty about having remorse might be it. As someone who loves symbolism, I still don’t believe some of the Garden of Eden interpretations I’ve read.

This is a also a nice poem for discussing voice on two levels.

First, some of your students will notice that the speaker does not really seem remorseful. As I’ve said, most of the class believes he would do it again. How does Williams convey that while the WORDS say something else? Now, that’s good writing.

Second, is the speaker a man or a woman? Offer the poem without the poet’s name and ask. Then, give them Williams’ name and ask. Then point out that the speaker and the poet are often different people (don’t assume). Can a boy write a poem from a girl’s perspective (try it!). Does that mean he’s a girl (answer: No.). Finally, speak about the universal nature of great literature, as opposed to the navel gazing private language most middle schoolers write in. The poet and voice are different.

This is Just to Say
William Carlos Williams

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.



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