William Carlos Williams

poetry

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.

– – –

Well five weeks into my new segment and I’m already messing up. I missed MONSTER Sunday. I’ve had a lot of poetry on the brain (I’ll fill you in later) but I’ll admit, the football playoffs didn’t help much either. Go Bears. So, it seemed fitting to pick a poem of embarrassment from Mr. Williams. On the outset it seems like a simple poem, which was indeed part of the point. The language is clear and concise, there is no meter, nor any rhyme, nor any simile, metaphor, alliteration, or any such poetic nonsense. Yet this poem, along with the early works of H.D., Ford Maddox Ford, D.H. Lawrence, and especially Ezra Pound, formed a serious sea change in the world of poetry: the Imagist movement, generally considred to be the founding movement of Modern poetry. Like so many things in the 20th Century, Imagism was reactionary: it was a reaction to the increasingly copious and melodramatic works of Victorian poetry, a prime example being Lord Tennyson, the Monster of Poetry from two weeks ago. The young Imagist writers found the poems of Tennyson etc. to be dinosaurs, lumbering around excessively, roaring from hillsides. So they decided to work on an extinction plan. Their idea was simple: treat the “thing” directly; use no word that does not contribute directly to the treatment; focus the poem’s tone on music rather than on arcane systems of rhyme and meter. Essentially, let a poem be an image, a single image or an immediate juxtaposition of images, and let it speak for itself with no guiding hand of the poet’s morality. It does sound refreshing, doesn’t it? The irony is that the purveyors of Imagism spent volumes articulating this theory in all of its political and social ramifications, which goes to show that all Art has baggage, and that the less art says, the more it carries. The Japanese write haiku for haiku’s sake; the Europeans do it and add all this extra shit to it.

Now that I’ve thoroughly ruined this glorious poem for you, let’s go back and take another look. Baggage aside, this is a fantastic study on the power of language. First thing is the word “plum,” which must be one of the most beautiful words in the English language. It’s such a round word, the “p” rising to the “l” and dipping down to the soft “u” and the fuzzy “m.” It’s a word that recalls perfectly the object it represents. This poem wouldn’t be the same if it were “guavas.” “Plum” also recalls a color, purple, and connects to “probably” in the next stanza. “Icebox” gives the poem a crisp feel. By the time you get to “so sweet/ and so cold,” by God, you can practically taste those plums in your mouth. I’ve probably read this poem hundreds of times, and it never loses its magic.

Extra MONSTERS OF POETRY Fun! Do your own This Is Just to Say mad-lib!!

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Emily Dickinson

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