The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

William Carlos Williams’s “This Is Just to Say” contains three stanzas, each composed of four short lines. No line exceeds three words. In the first stanza, the narrator-writer of a memorandum asserts that he has eaten plums that were in the icebox. In the second stanza, the narrator addresses “you” and acknowledges that the reader of the note was probably saving the plums for breakfast. In the first line of the third and last stanza, the narrator-writer asks for forgiveness and then expresses his relish of the plums.

The appearance of the printed poem emphasizes the brevity of the unusually short lines, for white space dominates. Of the twenty-eight words in the entire poem, twenty-one are one-syllable words. Only two words are capitalized. Williams uses no punctuation. The pronouns “I” and “me” designate the narrator-writer, and the pronoun “you” addresses the reader of what appears to be a hastily written note. The brevity, the informality of the writing as exemplified by a complete absence of punctuation, and a partial absence of capitalized words combine with the title, “This Is Just to Say,” to create the register of a note or memorandum.

After the sentence “I have eaten/ the plums. . . .” in the first stanza, Williams maintains a focus on plums by using three pronouns placed through the poem to refer to the fruit. In the third line of the first stanza, the relative pronoun “that” stands for plums in the clause “that were in/ the icebox.” In the second stanza the relative pronoun “which” stands for plums in the clause “and which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast.” In the last stanza the personal pronoun “they” refers to “plums” in the closing independent clause, “they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold.” Although two humans, the writer and the reader of the note, exist in the poem, the focus remains on the object, the plums.

The poem progresses in a narrative sequence of the narrator-writer eating the plums that had been put in the icebox. Stanza 2 works like a flashback in narration as the narrator surmises that the reader has saved the plums for breakfast. The third stanza has the opening line “Forgive me” with “Forgive” as the only word in the poem, other than the pronoun “I,” capitalized. Then the narrator evaluates the taste of the fruit with three adjectives—“delicious,” “sweet,” and “cold.”