The poet who stole breakfast

Photo: Unknown photographer, image from Yale Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Public domain.

Passport photo of obvious fruit thief.

Poet Jane Hirshfield suggested we do an apology analysis of William Carlos Williams‘s short poem “This Is Just To Say.”

We were honored and delighted by the idea. We hadn’t done it before, because the poem’s still under copyright, so we can’t just plunk it on the page. You can see it here. Take a look – it’s very short, and you might already be familiar with it. It’s often parodied or imitated.

Lovely poem. Not such a good apology.

Generally, we say you should apologize for what you did, and to the person affected. Usually you should acknowledge the effect, and say why it won’t happen again.

Image: 1904 ad from Tacoma Times. Public domain.

I suspect their ice box was more modern than these 1904 creampuffs.

Williams does not actually apologize or say sorry. The words “I apologize” or “I’m sorry” are not absolutely indispensable, but they are such powerful indicators of remorse that leaving them out is a bad sign.

He does say what he did. He took the plums! Knowing full well that the addressee’s breakfast schemes were probably being torpedoed. Thus he acknowledged the effect, too.

This poem may have come in the form of a note, or perhaps it was spoken to the person who can no longer deploy plums in their plans. (Probably his wife Flossie.) But it is addressed to them, so that’s good.

Photo: Luisfi. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

For some reason I am convinced the poet ate purple plums.

He asks for forgiveness, something which particularly maddens Snarly. They may forgive you, but you don’t get to demand it.

But will it happen again? I think it will. Look how the poem revels in the lovely cold fruit. You know he won’t resist next time. Basically, it looks to me like you cannot keep fruit around when William Carlos Williams is in the house.

He’ll do it again. He is not really sorry.

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7 Responses to The poet who stole breakfast

  1. Frako L says:

    The poem is read aloud in the new Jim Jarmusch-Adam Driver film PATERSON.

  2. tanita says:

    ☺ This always reminds me of my late first year English professor, a twiggy black man who was 6’9″ and who read this – and every poem – in a laconic drawl, hurrying through the title as if the whole thing were peripheral. “Oh, by the way – this.” Even the title, “This is Just to Say” bespeaks a certain “this is extraneous detail, I’m off doing more important things,” attitude, which of course leads one to believe that the scofflaw will scoff again. Repeatedly. As long as the plums are in season.

  3. Janis Mara says:

    I am enchanted at this new approach to “This is Just to Say.” One would think by now every possible angle of analysis would have been exhausted, but no. Brava!

  4. Alicia says:

    I love that poem. He’s so not sorry.

  5. Karen Freeman says:

    For some reason, I always hear that poem in Billy Collins voice.

  6. AnonypussRex says:

    Purple plums are the best of plums, so naturally you presume correctly that he would compose a poem to celebrate his theft 🙂

  7. Mitchell Halberstadt says:

    I suspect that the absence of the words “I’m Sorry” at the end of the title is deliberate (and brilliantly ironic).

    Then, too, I was struck by the absence of a final line, in a stanza by itself (though obviously Williams didn’t intend THAT much irony or levity):

    “Now I have diarrhea.”

    By the way, I’m sure they WERE purple plums — the best, indeed! But a sense of humor never hurts….

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