Of Eaten Plums & Love Poems


“This Is Just To Say”, by William Carlos Williams, is one of my favorite poems in the entire world.  I have a deep love for the sparsity of William’s style, the way he creates evocative images by refraining from complication, allowing his words a certain purity, the verbs and adjectives standing for themselves, un-harried by figurative language.  They evoke in me the same feeling I get when staring especially at impressionist paintings – you know that in the real world, that shadow they’ve painted is not actually violet on a cream-colored sleeve, but it looks so true, so honest to the very nature of the thing that it seems even truer than reality.  It’s the kind of simplicity and frankness of vision that almost always makes me want to cry from its beauty.

If William Carlos Williams doesn’t ring an immediate bell, you might know this poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow”:

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

It’s perhaps his most popular, most-studied-in-schools poem.  But just look at the way he breaks up words to make their images strike you: ‘wheel/barrow’, ‘rain/water’, ‘white/chickens’.  Look at the most perfect use of the word ‘glazed’ ever put to paper – ‘glazed with rain’, how much feeling is in its simplicity, this little verdant farmyard, these living things, the world of rain and white chickens and red wheelbarrows.

But I’m getting off-topic.  Here is the poem in question:

This Is Just to Say

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

Now the story goes of this 1934 poem, that Williams wrote this as a note to his wife, after eating her plums, I guess, and then picked it up later as a piece of ‘found poetry’.  It’s absolutely so mundane, that interpretations of it have run the gamut, from “literally, he’s just apologizing to his wife, the dude ate her plums” to biblical Adam-and-Eve apple, sin, sexuality, ‘academia’ types.

I certainly am in no better position to judge Williams’ intentions than anyone else, but in my mind, this is a love poem.  I guess it’s not a popular opinion, or even a faintly common one, but it feels so intimate, so personal, that I can’t help feeling that we’re made privy for just a moment, to the inner workings of a relationship, a gesture of subdued passion between lovers.

“This Is Just To Say” implies such familiarity, an ‘oh, by the way’.  He knows the recipient’s (his wife’s) habits – that she is saving the plums for breakfast, in all likelihood.  And yet there is also this moment of impulse, that the plums were “so sweet/ and so cold” that he could not help himself, could not stop himself from eating them, and the quiet passion he describes them with: “they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold,” as if it were the way he were describing a lover in the early morning.

The interplay Williams achieves between passion and restraint, longing and satisfaction is perhaps to me what makes this a love poem, understated as it may be.  He writes this to her because he loves her, and everything about it feels organic – that it was not written as a poem, but was created from truth, that his actions are not thought through but natural, as if characterizing also their relationship, its tenderness and its earthiness and its spontaneity and its rightness.  It rings so intimate in its mundane subject, as if saying, these, these are the small moments where love is found.

Or, you know, might just be about plums.

(Postscript: It is a true fact that I tried plums for the first time in my life completely because of this poem.  They are indeed wonderful fruits.)


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