First Lines Wednesday – This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams

Edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, Jon Stallworthy, The Norton Anthology of Poetry (W. W. Norton & Company: 2005, 9780393979206)

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

First Lines Wednesday – Plums are the new apples? Is this playful 1934 poem about something mundane, or an absolution of Eve? That’s part of the fun – you may read it as an allusion to the ‘fall of man’, or secularly as men taking responsibility for their actions and discarding the female role of temptress and leader of transgression. Assuming the narrator is a man addressing a woman because Williams was a straight man is lazy, but this poem is versatile enough that anything goes and you can run with it however you like.

I enjoy reading this as ‘just’ a note. Here the title is the first line of the poem and establishes a tone of playfulness and the cheeky downplaying of the very relatable betrayal of going to the fridge for that Coke you put there specially and finding that it is gone, thanks to a partner or a family member. Bastards.

This is lovely as a love poem. The unapologetic teasing is a mark of intimacy and a reminder that we are better off choosing our battles wisely. Laugh off the note – eat their strawberries next time.

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