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What is the theme of "This Is Just to Say" by Williams Carlos Williams?

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pallab | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted September 26, 2011 at 11:20 PM via web

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What is the theme of "This Is Just to Say" by Williams Carlos Williams?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 30, 2012 at 1:41 PM (Answer #1)

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“This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams encourages interpretations. When asked about the poem, the poet referred to the meter of the poem rather than its meaning.  The poet was a part-time writer and a full time doctor.  He wrote at night when he had time. 

“I forgive you” is the reaction that the poem wants to elicit from the reader.  Possibly, the poet is asking for forgiveness for more than just the plums. 

The setting for the poem is the kitchen.  The narrator has done something wrong, so he wrote a note to be left on the refrigerator to apologize.  The two people may use the front of the “fridge” as the message center for the home.  These little everyday things like eating someone else’s fruit and giving a rather unusual apology contribute to the fun of life. 

The poem was written in 1934. One of the words dates the poem: the icebox which was an early refrigerator. The icebox is exactly like what it sounds. It was a box with ice in it.  It was like an ice chest today. The reader does not know if this is a more sophisticated electric refrigerator or an actual ice box.  In this time period, it could have been either one.  

Theme

The theme of the poem is choices.  The narrator had a choice to make. He knew what was right and wrong.  The fruit did not belong to him.  It was not his to eat.  The choice is obvious—follow his conscience.  If there were an understanding about the fruit, this would be a different matter.  Obviously, he feels guilt and the need to tell her why he ate them.

         Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold.

Remember also for every action there is a consequence.  The speaker may be expecting some kind of reaction from his decision that can be better managed with an apology. 

Summary

The poet has committed a “plum crime” and leaves a note on the icebox apologizing for eating the plums belonging to the other person. May be it was late at night, and the doctor was hungry, and the poet wrote the apology.    

The two people in the poem may have different schedules. The doctor may have come in late from something about his medical practice, or he may have been writing late at night which he often did. He does not expect to see this person until after she comes for her breakfast. It is a sensitive step on the part of the poet to ask forgiveness.  It shows a deep regard for the other person’s feelings.  He enjoyed the plums.  Sadly, she will not have this pleasant experience.

On the other hand, he then jumps into rubbing it in a bit about how good the plums were.  Possibly, this is a joke between the two people.  His tone may have a touch of sarcasm, or humor by pointing out what she is going to miss when she has her breakfast.  

He may need to justify his crime by telling her that he could not resist eating them.  It is doubtful that he is trying to give her a vicarious experience by describing the luscious fruit in which she is going to miss out.

 It is also possible that he is really not sorry at all.  He does not beg her forgiveness. His imperative tone does not illicit any strong feels of guilt; he rather orders her to forgive him.  

This is the beauty of poetry.  The reader can understand the words of a poem, their meanings, and possibilities.  It is his responsibility to decide for himself the flavor of the poem.

 

 

 

 

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