In "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams, the speaker appears to deliver an apology for stealing the plums of the person at whom the poem is targeted. I have heard some people analyze this poem as being truly about plums. However, I have seen others analyze this poem as being about murder or sexual assault. What is the poem truly about?

Here is the text of the poem:

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.

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    Where have you heard people analyze this poem as being truly about plums? – user111 Jan 20 '17 at 22:47
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    Being a poem, it's probably about death, love, or both. – CHEESE Jan 24 '17 at 2:59
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    I've never understood what about this poem was supposed to merit my attention. Remove the line breaks and it's just a piece of prose; one could take pretty much any other piece of prose and turn it into a poem of equal merit. It's not terrible; I just don't understand why they bothered to teach this particular one to me in high school (and apparently still is). – Joshua Engel Jul 19 '17 at 20:14
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    @Hamlet I can't help but be bemused and amused by your apparent balking at the notion the poem is about fruit but acceptance of murder/assault themes. Is that what you actually meant? – Spagirl Sep 19 '17 at 8:25
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    @Spagirl not necessarily. If a question or an answer is going to claim "I have heard some people analyze this poem as _____," I'm going to ask where that claim comes from, no matter what _____ actually is. I care much less about the conclusion reached in questions or answers, and I care a lot more about how those conclusions are backed up. (I'm surprised that you're surprised by this tbh). – user111 Sep 19 '17 at 12:14

From here:

Williams's poem allows the reader a wide range of possibilities. He or she is free to decide whether it is "about" temptation, a re-enactment of the fall, or the triumph of the physical over the spiritual. Each reader is left free to construct a poem, and the reader becomes the owner of the resulting poem.

The site also notes that there has never been a consensus on what the poem meant, and that Williams never mentioned the meaning of the poem.

Another site says:

It might be as simple as this: A little poem about eating plums is too delicious to spend that much time thinking about. Over-analyzing removes the joy we receive from reading these words, smiling, and imagining how perfectly ripe those plums must have tasted.

Nothing can agree on a more complex solution than "it's just about plums."

Conclusion: Either it's up to you, or it's just about plums.


I checked multiple sources for you, and I found a common thread.

Wikipedia says that it is just about plums, as they define it as an imagist poem. Imagists poems are defined by wikipedia as.

Imagism was a movement in early 20th-century Anglo-American poetry that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language.

Which fits the poem relatively well.

Shmoop believes that the question you have is over analyzing the text. They believe the purpose of the poem is to give an example of a poem that is exactly as it seems.

Both the sites thought you were overanalyzing, and I was unable to find a credible site that argued the same point as the people who took it as murder or sexual assault.


I don't think the poem is value-laden about these things, but I do think that the poem is about (which is to say, interested in) issues around:

  • temptation (aestheticizing an immoral/sinful act is a good way to make oneself feel less bad about committing it)

  • how we ask for forgiveness (grammatically, the speaker does not ask for it at all)

  • remorse (which, does the speaker show it?)

  • excuses (there is no punctuation between "Forgive me" and "they were delicious" as if the speaker was rushing to get the justification out)

and similar concerns.

A good meta-question for the poem might be: Is how the speaker goes about the act of eating the plums and making their apology a morally good, emotionally effective way, or a way that assuages their own feelings without actually resolving the root problem? The poem to me has always seemed a warning against passive-aggressiveness, and an argument for authenticity in social engagement. Think about how you would feel if your roommate left this note!

The prosaic quality in this poem that some have noted ("remove the line breaks and it's just a couple little sentences", by the way, is descriptive of a vast swath of English poetic history) lends to imagining it as an actual, material object. That imagination gives the document an insistently embedded, social dimension that can't be ignored: the poem, the note on the fridge, is an act of communication that is inescapably politicized.

  • As a side comment, the poem's functioning as 'Imagist' really entails the act of reading as a visual encounter, subject to all the psychosocial filtering that all visual encounters already are, not as a naturalist or realist pseudo-objective description. To say that Williams's poem is 'Imagist' means that the act of seeing is to be majorly implicated in the determination of a structure of interpretation. (character limit-see next comment) – russ ull Sep 19 '17 at 6:12
  • Hence my remark in the original answer that the way to approach this poem is to conceptualize it as physically occupying your own space and the detailed fabric of your life: that which is visible to us is real, immediately present, but not at all less subject to imagining because of its status as image. – russ ull Sep 19 '17 at 6:12

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