‘This is Just to Say’ by William Carlos Williams is a three stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. The lines are limited to one or two words only, spoken by a first person narrator. As is common within Williams’ writing, there is no punctuation. This stylistic choice has an even greater impact when there are so few words, only twenty-eight in all.
Without punctuation, one is encouraged to move swiftly from one line to another. There are no required breaks aside from the time it takes to get from one line or stanza to another. There are two instances of capitalization though. The “I” at the beginning of line one and “Forgive” in the first line of the last stanza. This suggests the beginning of two different sentences.
The short lines also make it seem as if the speaker is having trouble finishing his thought. They read like halting speech, as if each new word is difficult to form. This likely has to do with the subject matter of the poem itself which is an apology for eating some plums.
Additionally, as one reads through this piece it becomes obvious that the words are almost all single syllable. There are only seven that stretch to two or three syllables. This creates a sense of unity within in the text, a feeling that does not exist within the meter or rhyme.
Williams chose to write this piece without a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern in mind. It is composed in what is known as free verse. That being said, it does not mean the lines are not organized in a specific way. The line breaks are systematically scattered throughout the short narrative and all the words are arranged for the greatest impact. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of This is Just to Say
‘This is Just to Say’ by William Carlos Williams contains a speaker’s apology to the listener for going into the fridge and eating plums that did not belong to him.
The poem begins with the speaker telling the listener of his crime. He ate “the plums,” a very specific group of them, from the fridge. These fruits were important to the listener because they were going to have them for breakfast. This is a fact the speaker was aware of but chose to disregard. When he saw them and thought about what they’d taste like, he couldn’t resist. The final lines contain his apology to his listener for his actions and the reasoning behind this little betrayal.
Analysis of This is Just to Say
From the first lines of this piece, Williams’ speaker walks the reader through the narrative a step at a time. The first line tells the reader that the speaker has eaten something. Although it only takes a moment to find out what that something is, this is a curious way to start a poem and is certainly meant to engage the reader. One might wonder, before making it to the second line, why eating is important enough inspire a poem. Between this line and the second, there is a perfect example of enjambment. This is when one line breaks before the conclusion of a thought. It is the most effective when the break occurs in an unnatural spot, somewhere one does not usually pause while speaking.
Line two reveals that it was “the plums” that were eaten. It is important to note that the word “the” lends the phrase greater importance. It was not any plums the speaker ate, but a specific batch known to the intended listener. The fact that the two words are separated into their own line is also important. It also hints at the fact that these plums were in themselves important in some way.
The next two lines inform the listener that he ate the plums that were in the “icebox.” They were in this very specific place, for an unknown reason. It is helpful to know that “icebox” likely refers to a refrigerator rather than a freezer. It is a word that has fallen out of common use but was often utilized in the past. From these two lines one should glean that the plums were important. Someone thought to keep them in the fridge for a reason.
The second stanza provides the listener and reader with a little more information. At this point the speaker and listener know an important detail about the text the reader does not. The plums were being saved by the listener “for breakfast.” This is revealed in the last line of this stanza after some significant build up. It took seven lines to get to the climax of this short piece and it is not lacking in drama. The almost constant use of enjambment and the halting feeling of the speaker’s words should have one experiencing something like suspense. Even though the narrative is quite mundane.
From the first line of this stanza it is clear the speaker is purposely taking his time. Each word is important, and the pauses hint at both fear and caution. He wants to make sure he chooses each correctly. The second line reveals that the plums belonged to the speaker. This is where the drama sets in. It starts to become clear that perhaps this person shouldn’t have eaten the plums.
The speaker knows that this person was saving the plums for a specific occasion, that morning’s breakfast, but he still ate them.
The final stanza describes how the speaker was not able to stop himself when he saw the plums. They overwhelmed his senses and he just had to have them. The reasoning behind the composition of this piece also becomes clear. The poem is meant as an apology to the listener for the speaker’s behavior. Apparently it impacted this person enough, or perhaps just triggered the speaker’s guilt sufficiently, that he felt he had to apologize.
His apology in the first line is quickly followed up by three excuses. The plums “were delicious” and were “so sweet” and “so cold.” It is for these reasons that he couldn’t stop him self from eating them. He hopes that his apology and the reasoning he provided with be enough to make his listener forgive him.