Themes and Meanings

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The rhythm of everyday speech, the absence of punctuation, the title, the message of “I have eaten/ the plums,” and the brevity of “This Is Just to Say” combine to suggest that the poem poses as a hastily scribbled note. The pose may convey the theme of Williams’s poem. If so, the parallel between this particular poem and a note is a crucial issue.

A note is an interchange between a writer and a reader. In the interchange between the “I” and “you,” the plums become the center of attention. In the first stanza the writer admits to eating the plums. In the second stanza, the writer expresses the belief that the reader of the note was saving the plums for breakfast. In the first line of the third stanza, the writer asks for forgiveness. After doing so, he then extols the sensuous pleasure of the forbidden fruit. A tension arises in the third stanza as the first line, “Forgive me,” suggests humbleness. In contrast, the closing three lines are exuberant, as the writer revels in the remembered pleasure of eating the plums.

The plums have tempted the writer of the note, who succumbs and asks forgiveness for his weakness. Then the writer re-creates the sensuous temptation through the only adjectives used in the poem. This second reveling in the sensuous pleasure of the plums is possible only through words, liquid adjectives that mimic the muscular facial movements that have occurred during the actual eating of the plums. It is in the last three lines that the poem overtakes the note. The poetic timbre of the last three lines indicates that the prosaic timbre of the title is a guise; the register of the note is a guise. Because poetry is metaphorical rather than literal, poetry readers expect guises, but Williams, in his seemingly artless little “note,” has disguised a poem as a memorandum.

Williams’s metaphor of poem posing as note suggests several meanings. One is that the human, the writer of the apologetic memo, can transcend mere physical ordinariness through sensuous pleasure taken in physical objects: The senses enable the transcendence. Asking for forgiveness suggests a spiritual transgression. Paradoxically, the human senses that have so enjoyed the fruit have also caused the transgression. “Forgive me” is one brief line that seems not so important as the crescendo of following adjectives that extol the pleasures of the fruit. A second meaning of the metaphor lies in the brevity of the note: These stolen sensory pleasures are brief. A third meaning occurs in the ordinariness of a note. One does not expect transcendence in a note as one does not expect transcendence from the icebox. Williams thus seems to suggest that humans may not need a cathedral for every transcendent experience. The senses may offer transportation into the sublime.

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