Saturday, April 16, 2011

"this is just to say" by 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

I could see this poem taped to the fridge after coming home from school or work. It's the perfect apology: honest and sweet enough to erase any anger. And despite written with simple words, for a simple purpose, it still managed to to draw up imagery. The simple words just flow.

Williams uses mostly one syllable words, which lends a homey feel to the poem. The longer words -- icebox, breakfast, delicious -- get extra emphasis. Williams also does something interesting with his rhythm: he writes two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. The pattern in not contained in single lines, but flows through the whole poem, through lines and stanzas, creating a waltz-like pattern to words: step, step, slide, step, step, slide. The actual words of the poem float over the rhythm like a melody over the beat. As a result, a message that otherwise might have sounded insensitive or even rude is actually quite elegant.

The incredible thing about this poem is that, despite an almost complete lack of descriptive words, it bring up very clear images. I see an old-fashioned kitchen, glowing the morning sun, and a scrap sheet of paper, stuck to the refrigeration with one of those silly, almost tacky magnets, with this poem written on it. I can also see the plums, nestled in the icebox, bright purple and ripe, before being taken out and eaten. I can almost taste to juiciness on my tongue, sweet and cool. And I can glimpse someone, possibly his wife, holding the poem, shaking her head, and saying, good-naturedly, "Oh, William."

Perhaps what I like best about this poem it the attention that it gives to something as ordinary and as domestic as eating plums. Certainly the are bigger, more profound things to write about, but Williams chose simple and incredibly commonplace. How many of us have eaten something that we have know, or could have guessed, someone else was saving for later? Even if it wasn't exactly theirs and they hadn't expressly forbid you to eat it? But Williams finds such an experience worthy of poetry. In a few, short words, he expresses the attitudes vital to a family: honesty and humility. He highlights the importance of even the littlest things and puts a sweet, simple spin on life. Without great literary devices or even punctuation, he writes a poem that touches the heart. It it the sweetest poem I've read.

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha! I should tape it to my fridge right now! :) I love the scenario you've made here.

    It does have nice imagery with few words. I really like Williams. It's funny to me that Ginsberg (who we started to read in class on Thursday) was influenced by him.