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

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem, in its entirety, reads:

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

This poem is one of Williams's most famous, and is often interpreted as a note left on the door of the icebox (refrigerator). In that interpretation, the short lines are due to the size of the paper and the writer's desire to keep his note short. Another interpretation concerns the state of a world left to one's children; the  "plums" are the resources available, and the writer -- the parent -- is apologizing to the child for using up so much without thought for the future. He explains that instant gratification -- "delicious/so sweet" was more important than his knowledge that the next generation needs them as well -- "saving/for breakfast."

The theme therefore would be apology for sins committed, regardless of how inconsequential those sins were. There is also an undercurrent of sarcasm in the poem, as seen in the writer's deliberate explanation of how much he enjoyed the plums; if the theme is apology and seeking forgiveness, there is also a theme of vengeance, as if the writer ate the plums in response to some unknown slight. Another theme might be the shortness of human pleasures; although the plums were meant for breakfast, indicating that their owner was putting off the pleasure of eating them, the writer consumed them directly and now is somewhat remorseful that the experience was so short.