American poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) was a paediatrician, and a poet who did much to promote the development of modern poetry in America. His poems are often deceptively simple, and his work frequently has an affinity with painting, in which he had a great interest. He once stated: “The purpose of an artist, whatever it is, is to take the life, whatever he sees, and to raise it up to an elevated position where it has dignity.”
His short poem This Is Just to Say was written as though it were a message attached to the door of the refrigerator, or left on a kitchen table.
The poem has no punctuation (and only two capital letters) and has no regularity of stress or syllable count, and is without rhyme. It’s really only typography that makes us know it is a poem.
Williams wanted to capture ordinary moments in everyday life in his poetry. It’s rooted in domestic reality, but it also leaves the reader wondering – were the plums supposed to be shared, is there anything left in that icebox, did he get into serious trouble for eating them all? It’s a tiny snapshot of a poem, enticing and leaving us yearning for more. Are the plums a metaphor for sexual activity, or for forgiveness, or for sin (as the apple so often is)? While intended for just one person, it’s a poem with universal appeal.
I find it a wonderfully sensual poem – one can taste the sweetness of the plums and feel their chill. The setting is so normal, and yet one is aware of the sincerity of the apology and the love he feels in writing it.
The poem appears inscribed on a wall in the Dutch city of The Hague.