Analysis of the Poem "This Is Just To Say" by William Carlos Williams

Updated on January 10, 2020
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams | Source

William Carlos Williams And A Summary of This Is Just To Say

William Carlos Williams wrote a quick note to his wife one morning, a 'passing gesture', and stuck it on the refridgerator before heading off to work. The note turned out to be a very short poem,This Is Just To Say and became one of his most popular creations when it was published in 1934.

The poem takes about 20 seconds to recite, has no regular rhythm or syllabic count, no rhyme, and lacks any punctuation, other than line-breaks. It is true to the poetic philosophy that Williams championed - away with convention, free the line, write poems about anything, be local, be American, no ideas but in things.

The things in this poem happen to be plums and yes, there's no doubting, all the ideas seem to spring from this delicious, juicy, cool fruit. Perhaps the plums were picked or bought by the person the note is aimed at; perhaps they were going to be shared?

Either way, the speaker is casual, forthright and a little guilty.

Williams wanted his poetry to be rooted in reality, with strong images (he was a keen Imagist) and a local feel. This Is Just To Say is a work of intimate detail; just a few words laid out neatly that hold so much more.

He helped establish a new American street-and-backyard voice in poetry, minimalist, sketchy, in contrast to poets like T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound who preferred the European and Asian traditions.

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

Analysis of This Is Just To Say

This Is Just To Say is a snapshot of a poem, a moment in time, a tiny field of 28 words, 37 syllables, 3 stanzas.

The title reads like a first line and there's a temptation to follow straight on into the poem proper. Almost before you know it, you've finished reading, perfectly reflecting the quick burst of energy that created the poem in the first place.

But then there's a need to step back. Although the poem, the note, is very short and seems like a personal confession of sorts, ( actually husband to wife), there is much more going on beyond the immediate field.

Who could the speaker be confessing to? It's not necessarily a wife, it could be a friend, a partner, a lover. The plums could be a metaphor - sweet, delicious, fresh - for sexual activity, for love? Or temptation?

Williams wanted freedom from restraint in his poems, he wasn't interested in line after line of iambs, trochees, pentameter or tetrameter or other such confining devices. This troubled some of the other poets at the time but others welcomed the break away from the boring rhymed lines of formal convention.

This Is Just To Say is a snippet of domestic news that eventually went viral thanks to the brevity, plain language and novel approach to form and line. It was intended for just one person but is universal in its appeal.

Further Analysis - Form And Lineation in This Is Just To Say

The form and lineation are crucial to the success of this little poem. Short lines need to be read with care, as lack of rhyme and rhythm tend to make the reader wary. If you're reading these lines for the first time be ready to change tack at the end of lines 8 and 10.

So, this is a free verse poem with no regular rhythm but it does have iambic beat in lines 2,5 and 11 - the plums.... and which - and an unusual amphibrach beat in lines 4,8 and 9 - the icebox ....for breakfast.... Forgive me & (amphibrach is when a word has unstressed.stressed.unstressed or daDUMda syllables).

If this poem is written down as a piece of prose, with additional punctuation, it becomes two or three sentences:

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.

Or squeezed into another form:

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

I think this all in one form doesn't quite achieve the balance of the original. The prose, with commas and exclamation mark, turns 28 words into a line of dialogue! Read through these two examples and then compare the read throughs with the original.

It could be argued that three tiny stanzas enable the speaker to separate out the I, you, me perspective and the enjambed lines allow a free-flow for the reader. William Carlos Williams crafted this poem in such a way as to make it contemporary on the page and memorable for the mind.


Domestic Issues


Local Goings On








The Poetry Handbook, John Lennard, OUP,2005

The Hand of the Poet, Rizzoli, 1997

100 Essential Modern Poems, Ivan Dee, Joseph Parisi, 2005

© 2016 Andrew Spacey


Submit a Comment

No comments yet.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)