This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams: Summary and Critical Analysis

This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams is a unique modern poem which shows that poetry can be about anything and everything. Moreover, it shows how really poetic simple and ordinary experiences can be. The poem takes as its subject a very ordinary event of daily and family life: the speaker confesses to his mother, or may be his wife, that he couldn't help eating plums kept in the kitchen.

William C. Williams (1883-1963)

He means to confess the guilt and apologize for it. The poem can also be interpreted symbolically. Its simplicity, economy and its unique form must also be commented upon. Its imagery is also another striking feature. The whole poem is written in just twenty-eight words and in two sentences without punctuation; the capital letter in the beginning last stanza indicates a sentence break. The title can also be taken as the first line. So the whole poem can be summarized as: This is just to say that I’ve eaten the plums and I want to apologize, but I couldn’t help eating them because they were so cold and delicious.

Because of the extreme economy and care in wording, the reader is encouraged to give equal care and thought to each word. The line ends mark usual pause and unusual reflection (meditation). The tone is of a hesitant child confessing his mistake. The paradox in the justification is very typically childlike and interesting: the speaker says that he ate plums “because” they were cool and delicious. How did he know that? The lie and the honesty are so striking. He ate them first and then only found them delicious: he was overcome by temptation. He realizes the mistake only when he had done it. That is inevitable.

The paradox in the confession has deeper meanings. We know what right, good, moral is or truth only when we try and face the wrong, evil, immoral or false. We say we won’t do worse, and we confess when we have done it. We can’t undo anything. This is an inescapable reality of the human condition. All knowledge is gained or advance on this principle of paradox. The event in the poem can be compared with Adam and Eve’s case. They ate the apple and realized things like shame, disease, anger, guile, death, and so on. The experience of the evil only confirmed their knowledge of the good (or the right) and the value of the bliss that God had given them. They realized the value of “Eden” only when they had lost it. We realize the value of ignorance, any possession, happiness, and anything that we have only after we lose it. The knowledge of the dark, guilt and shame gives value or meaning to the bright side of life. Opposites define and validate opposites.

At the symbolic level, therefore, the child represents human beings who are like Adam in the mistakes they go on making and the knowledge they go on achieving. So the addressee (you) of the poem must be Christ or God. The familiarity of the subject matter and imagery tells us that we repeat mistakes of the same kind even in ordinary life and conditions.

The imaginary is very concrete, vivid and sensuous. The ‘cold’ plums in the ‘icebox’ and their ‘delicious’ sweetness brings water in our mouths! The fidelity of thought is also striking: they were probably saved for breakfast. This is an irrelevant idea to cover up the wrong, and to be “intelligent”. But it doesn’t help anyway.

The poem is at first starting in its economy: Even the title has to be a part of it. “This” may mean a ‘note’ left on the table, or it may also confess his guilt for everyone through ‘this’ poem. Besides the economy, the familiar setting and the dramatic situation clarified by a few words is also notable. The poem is amazingly simple in diction. Only the thought-provoking truth makes it short of being a child’s poem.

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Shrestha, Roma. "This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 19 Nov. 2013,

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