This Is Just to Say Themes
by William Carlos Williams

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.


(The entire section is 470 words.)