"This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams + Ina's Plum Tatin

You knew this one was coming, right?

Perhaps one of the most analyzed modern poems, "This is Just to Say" leaves great room for interpretation. Critics have assumed everything from uselessness, to regret, to sexual frustration as key themes. Critics not only debate its meaning, but whether the poem is a poem at all. Some claim it was a note scribbled on a napkin left for his wife to find, others question its poetic backbone because, aside from all the lines looking the same aesthetically, the compilation of words is void of discernable metrical form.

Welcome to the world of poetic analysis.

I hope you'll allow me to take you as far away from this world as possible.

There was a time in my life when analyzing poetry was part of the deal. Academia often relies on a more technical form of interpretation, and any good student is expected to know her metrical units (do trochaic, anapaestic and dactylic pentameters sound familiar?). Once upon a time I could read a poem and point to these distinctions, but I find that now, years out of school and with little use for these terms today, I'm much more interested in the emotional current of a poem than whether or not it has five or seven syllables per line. Let's have a read and see what you think.

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

Personally, I like the idea that Williams left a note for his wife. He ate the plums, regretted it only enough to crack a smile as he was writing said note, then proceeded to take a walk and get on with the morning.

"That you were probably saving for breakfast" reveals a certain intimacy, too, because the speaker assumed a purpose for the plums based on what he knew of his wife. Had he not devoured them, she would have eaten them herself that morning.

From the mind of someone who once thought in verse, this is the kind of poem that just comes to you when it comes. You write it down, walk away, and there it is. You don't force it into a form. You just want it to sound pleasing to the ear and be what it was meant to be: an honest response to a moment in time.

This is the stuff of life. We eat plums our spouse might have been saving. We forget to take out the trash until we can smell the onion peels. We cook together, eat together. This poem is not as much as critics might make it seem (though I'm certain there are many critics out there who would disagree with me).

It might be as simple as this: A little poem about eating plums is too delicious to spend that much time thinking about. Over-analyzing sucks all the joy from the experience of reading it, smiling, and imagining how perfectly ripe those plums must have tasted.

I don't think Williams set out to write this poem before tasting the plums. I think the fact that they were "so delicious and so cold," and perhaps so much better than he may have imagined them tasting, prompted him to realize that they truly were special enough to apologize for taking.

What I'm trying to say is who cares about what this poem really means. It means whatever you want or need it to. Whatever you feel upon reading it is accurate. Stop thinking. Just eat the plums while they're still in season. (Sound good? Give it a tweet!)


This time, I used a trusty Ina Garten recipe, and hardly changed a thing. Visit the Food Network for her recipe.