This is Just to Say

'This Is Just To Say' (1934) is a mischievous free verse poem written by William Carlos Williams in the form of a note left for his wife, Florence. It is a few lines about plums, specifically chilled plums that got eaten. Don't let that put you off, there is a little more to it than that.

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This is Just to Say This is Just to Say

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Table of contents

    This Is Just To Say Poem

    William's poem is pretty short and sweet, wrapping up in just three stanzas.

    This Is Just to Say
    Written in 1934
    Written byWilliam Carlos Williams
    Shape/style Imagist
    Meter/Rhyme schemeFree verse/variable foot
    • Choices
    • Relationships and communication
    • Apologies and forgiveness
    Poetic Devices
    Frequently noted imagery Plums (chilled)
    • Mischievous
    • Factual
    • Off-hand

    The poet eats the plums that his wife put in the ice box.

    He presumes that she must have intended to eat these plums herself, so he writes her a poem telling her that he ate them and that they were really good. He also asks for forgiveness, although the entire apology is more amusing than genuinely repentant.

    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

    This Is Just To Say, Plums in a bowl, StudySmarter OriginalPlums are important in 'This is Just to Say'.

    This Is Just To Say Historical Context

    William Carlos Williams was born in New Jersey to an English father and a Puerto Rican mother of multiracial ancestry. He became a pediatrician, novelist, essayist, and poet. This is a rare combination, but it meant that he could write whatever he wanted without having to depend on it to make a living.

    Along with Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle aka HD, he was a member of the Imagists movement. John Keats and Walt Whitman initially influenced his poetry, but he developed his unique style after meeting Ezra Pound. He commented on this meeting, saying,

    Before meeting Pound is like B.C. and A.D. 1

    By 1917 and the publication of his third book, Al Que Quiere! (1917), he had nailed the key Imagist principle.

    The direct treatment of the thing, whether subjective or objective.

    Poetry at the time lagged behind other artistic fields in terms of breaking down the traditional structures and forms that were accepted as 'correct' or academic. The Imagists challenged conventional structures, themes, and language within the genre. Williams made extensive use of free verse and his version of metre, variable foot.

    The Imagists were a movement within poetry. They sought to simplify poetry, to strip out unnecessary words and to be direct in their depiction of both subjective or objective 'things'. Williams would later be a huge influence on the Beat Generation of poets and novelists. The Beats also worked to modify existing poetry into a more accessible, everyday art form from the 1940s through to the 1960s.

    Variable foot was a metre created by Williams. It is based on the idea that each line corresponds to one single breath unit. He finalised this approach across works in The Desert Music (1954) and Journey to Love (1955).

    This Is Just To Say Key Themes

    On the surface, this is a very simple poem, written about a pretty mundane domestic event involving some plums. Williams made a career out of writing poems about subjects that were not considered traditionally poetic. He also wrote in a structure and tone that were not considered traditionally poetic either.

    Generally, his work is not very grand. The themes concern everyday life and the structure is plain.


    The poet chooses to eat the plums, even though he seemingly knows that the other person might have set them aside for themselves. He also chooses to confess and to make a whole poem out of his quirky little apology.

    I have eaten

    the plums

    that were in

    the icebox (1-4)

    you were probably


    for breakfast (6-8)

    These lines clearly show the reader that Williams made his choice to eat the plums, despite his assumption, and then made his choice to confess, apologise, and ask for forgiveness.

    Relationships and communication

    The nature of the relationship between the poet and the owner of the plums is never explicitly mentioned. However, the tone of the poem, with its casual familiarity, indicates they know each other well. The detail of the shared icebox tells us that they share a kitchen, at least.

    Outside of the poem, we know that the note is for William’s wife, nicknamed Flossie. Even without this knowledge, it is clear that the two people are close and probably share a home. The fact that Williams had to leave a note also indicates that he and his wife had different schedules they used various forms of communication to overcome.

    There is a separateness that comes in having to leave a note rather than telling Flossie in person. The off-hand tone and humour in the poem indicate an easy understanding between the two, which contrasts that temporary physical separateness in a typically Imagist way.

    Apologies and forgiveness

    After eating the plums, Williams confesses and mentions forgiveness. The admission that he thought they might not be for him at that time and that they were delicious is quite teasing, especially as he ate all of them. It is not a very convincing apology, nor a really serious request for forgiveness.

    Forgive me

    they were delicious

    so sweet

    and so cold (9-12)

    When considering this last theme, it is worth reading Flossie's reply for some context on this poem and its cheeky admission of enjoyment. She is obviously not at all bothered about not having any plums.

    Reply (crumped on her desk)2

    Dear Bill: I've made a couple of sandwiches for you. In the icebox, you'll find blueberries--a cup of grapefruit a glass of cold coffee. On the stove is the tea-pot with enough tea leaves for you to make tea if you prefer--Just light the gas-- boil the water and put it in the tea. Plenty of bread in the bread-box and butter and eggs-- I didn't know just what to make for you. Several people called up about office hours--

    See you later. Love. Floss.

    Please switch off the telephone.

    Do you think that Williams ever actually assumed that the plums were not also for him? How does her reply change your reading and understanding of William's poem?

    This Is Just To Say Use of Literary Devices

    Williams uses some subtle devices with multi-layered meaning to create rhythm and cohesion in this poem. Although it is only 28 words long and written in plain English, there are plenty of nuances to notice.


    Enjambment is when lines run into the next line, across a line break, with no use of punctuation. All of the lines are run-ons in 'This Is Just To Say'.

    In addition, other than a couple of capital letters, this poem makes no use of punctuation at all.


    Sibilance is the repetition of letters that have a long 's' or slightly hissing quality to their sound. You can spot this throughout the poem, starting with the title.

    This is Just to Say

    the plums'

    they were delicious

    Read these three lines together. Do you think that Williams used this literary device to link these groups of words deliberately? Consider his wife’s reply.

    Does This Is Just To Say have a deeper meaning or use Symbolism

    It is possible to see many deeper meanings or types of symbolism in this poem if you choose to. Many critics have done so already. For example, the plums might symbolise temptation. The note may symbolise separateness. The apology might even symbolise a larger confession or an attempt at redemption for Williams' affairs with other women.

    How would the playful, 'sorry, not sorry' tone of the poem help convince Flossie that Williams was actually sorry for having affairs?

    Considering William’s stance on breaking the rules of what he termed 'classroom poetry’, he also might have just meant it as it is. Williams and the Imagists wanted to directly depict everyday American life. Nothing spectacular. Nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps he did that with 'This Is Just To Say'.

    It could just be a seemingly simple, insider joke in the form of a thank you note disguised as a poem.

    This Is Just To Say (1934) - Key Takeaways

    • William Carlos William was a doctor, novelist, screenwriter, and poet.

    • He, along with HD and Ezra Pound founded the Imagist movement, which sought to depict ‘a direct treatment of the thing.'

    • The Imagists chose to portray simple everyday things in simple everyday language, often using a juxtaposition of two things. They moved away from traditional poetic structures and devices.

    • 'This Is Just To Say' is considered a found poem, as it is a note left for his wife after he ate all of the plums in the icebox.

    • There are many readings of the poem, with the simplest being that it was a poetic thank you note for the plums.

    1 'A retrospective and a Few Dont's,' Poetry Foundation, 2020.

    2 Anne Fisher Worth, The Allocations of Desire: 'This Is Just to Say' and Flossie Williams's 'Reply' (Penn State University Press, 1996).

    Frequently Asked Questions about This is Just to Say

    What is the purpose of the poem This Is Just To Say?

    Depending on your reading, it is either an apology note or a thank you note. Or both, as he ate all of the plums.

    What kind of poem is This Is Just To Say?

    It is an example of an Imagist, variable foot poem.

    What is the intention of the speaker in This Is Just To Say?

    This depends on your reading but he could be saying thank you, apologising, or both. He is also intending to express his enjoyment of the plums. 

    There is an element of humour in his tone and intent.

    Which best describes the rhythm of This Is Just To Say?

    Williams Carlos Williams eventually called this style of poem a variable foot but it is also referred to as free verse.

    The rhythm is not set to traditional metres.

    What is the major theme of the poem This Is Just To Say?

    Major themes include relationships, communication, apologies, forgiveness, and choices.

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    • 9 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
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