This Is Just To Say Summary
We start out with the title of this poem, which could be telling us that this poem is written for no other reason than to say exactly what it says. Deep, right?
And what it says is that the speaker ate the plums, which he thinks "you," someone who, we can guess, lives with the speaker, was saving for breakfast. If we were this "you" and our speaker were our roomie, well, you can bet Shmoop would be a little peeved. We love us some plums.
He asks for the person's forgiveness. But hey, he just couldn't resist. The plums were really yummy—sweet and cold. They were, he told us earlier, in the icebox, just waiting to be devoured.
Of course we'll find out as we go if this poem is really "just to say" or something more.
I have eaten
- This line tells us, quite simply, that the speaker has eaten. Good to know.
- Well, what have you eaten, we think. Breakfast? Lunch? Too much? Or, judging by the smallness of this poem, too little?
- This line sets us up for the short lines of this poem. There's no punctuation in the entire poem, so the line breaks help provide its rhythm. These short lines make it so that there's a lot of enjambment in this poem. Enjambment is the term for when one thought is spread over multiple lines or stanzas. Just think about jamming the lines back together to get a complete thought.
- And be sure to check out our "Sound Check" and "Form and Meter" sections to learn more about the line breaks in this poem.
- What's important to know now, though, is that though these short lines may seem choppy, when read well, they are smooth as plum skin. Also, they make us think about every word carefully—if these few words get a whole line to themselves, they must be important!
- A-ha! This line tells us what the speaker ate—plums. Specific plums, at that—"the" plums, not "some" plums.
- Again, this line is super-short. That gives us time to think about exactly what plums are like—red (well, actually, plum-colored), round, sweet, juicy. In a word: delectable.
- In fact, we'd rather like to eat some plums right now. If you've got one on hand, go for it—then you'll know exactly what this line is talking about.
- Oh, and aside from the title, this is the first S sound we get in the poem. Keep an eye out for more, and be sure to check out our "Sound Check" section for more on what those S's are doing in the poem? Something sneaky, we're sure.
that were in
- This line, we might think at first glance, tells us nothing. Since when do three little words that don't really mean anything by themselves get their own entire line?
- Since our speaker gave one to them, that's when. But, when you think about it, this line does tell us something about the plums he's eaten. They were inside something, but aren't there anymore, because, you know, now they're in his belly. Yum.
- This line builds up the significance of the simplicity of this poem. With line breaks like this, we'd think the speaker was talking about a life or death matter. Every break is a dramatic pause.
- But no, he's just talking about where the plums were. Maybe, this line seems to say, simple things like that are important after all.
- This line reveals the location of our plums—the icebox.
- Now, if you were born in the last few decades, you may never have heard of an "icebox," so we'll help with a little bit of a history lesson.
- An "icebox" is exactly what it sounds like: a box with ice in it. It's what people used before refrigerators came about (like a cooler, but one you use all the time). Imagine, actually having to use ice to keep things cold!
- But the word "icebox" was also used to refer to early refrigerators, which were becoming widespread just about when this poem was published. So we're going to guess that this icebox is probably not just a box with ice, but more like a modern refrigerator. Maybe a little something like this?
- No matter what this icebox looked like, now we know that these plums were being kept fresh and cold. They were put away, out of sight, not just left on the counter. So the speaker had to open up the icebox to find them and eat them. The nerve.
- Here we get another line that doesn't seem to tell us much. "And which" is just a clue that tells us we're going to hear something more about these plums.
- We're starting to suspect here that the speaker is choosing his words very carefully. It's like he's walking on his tiptoes, careful not to use a word that's going to step in the wrong place.
- While, of course, most poets are very careful about their words, we think there's another reason why something like "and which"—or line three from this poem, "that were in"—would be on lines of their own.
- Even though this poem tells us it's "just to say," the speaker has some sort of stake in what he's saying, or he wouldn't be taking so much time to say it.
you were probably
- Oh, so these weren't just any plums. They were someone else's plums.
- That means there's another person involved in this poem. Maybe this "you" has something to do with why the speaker is being so careful and taking so much time with his words.
- From here on out, we're going to refer to "you" as a female. We don't know what gender "you," is, but we'll pick one just to make things less confusing, and because if we read the poem biographically, we'd guess the "you" was Williams' wife.
- With the word "you," we can guess that this poem is written to someone specific. The poem, introduced with the idea that "this is just to say," is meant to be read by her. Sure, this means us, the readers, too, but we're guessing it's mainly addressed to someone the speaker knows in real life.
- We also find out that she was "probably" doing something with these plums. So the speaker knows her well enough to guess her intentions.
- With only one six-letter word, this is the shortest line of the whole poem.
- But it actually gives us a lot of information, instead of longer lines like "that were in" and "and which," which just help to situate us.
- We find out with this line that the speaker has eaten the plums, which he thinks someone else was saving. They were, after all, in the icebox, and not just left out.
- So, maybe, we start to think, these lines are so spaced out and slow because the speaker feels a little guilty. He's trying to come up with the best words to apologize for eating these plums, even though he's not absolutely sure that they were being saved by someone else. It's just a hunch.
- Here we find out that the plums were probably being saved for breakfast. So this gives us a bit of a scene.
- The speaker is either going to bed late, after everyone else, or he's waking up early, before everyone else. He looks around, tries to find something to eat, and can't resist the juicy plums in the icebox.
- This line also hints that the speaker lives with "you." Maybe "you" is his wife, his mother, a sibling, or simply his roommate. Either way, they're around for breakfast, and were there to stow the plums away.
- We feel a little bit of the speaker's guilt here—the person who was saving the plums might wake up and have nothing to eat now. The speaker, we're guessing, will be gone when she awakes, so he's writing this to explain what happened to the plums.
- We know how Shmoop would feel if a fruit bandit stole our plums in the wee small hours of the morning, but how would you feel?
- Our speaker feels guilty about eating the plums, and straight up asks for forgiveness. Or rather, he commands it, using the imperative mood.
- This seems like it's a bit of an easy way out to us—he knew he shouldn't have eaten the plums, and thinks he can get away with just writing a note after the fact.
- But, then again, all humans do this. Just look at Adam and Eve, our biblical ancestors—they knew they shouldn't eat the forbidden fruit, but they did it anyway.
- Think about a time when you knew you shouldn't do something, but you did it anyway, and had to ask for forgiveness afterwards. This could be something as dramatic as cheating on your girlfriend or boyfriend, or as simple as borrowing someone's pen without asking.
they were delicious
- Now the speaker jumps from asking for forgiveness to describing how yummy the plums were.
- If the speaker is trying to explain what he did here to help "you" forgive him, we're not sure it's going to work.
- He's talking about how delicious the plums are that she won't be able to eat, because he ate them first. Seems like he's rubbing it in a little to us.
- This line strikes us as a little funny. Because it's so true to human nature, and it's something we've all said before, it brings a smile to our face.
- After all, we all try to justify our misdeeds after we do, them, don't we?
- Okay, we think, why is he rubbing this in even more?
- First, he tells her they were delicious, and then that they were super-sweet? He's kind of digging himself deeper and deeper, right?
- Maybe he's just trying to excuse himself by telling her that they were good, but we want to whack the speaker on the head and say, "You're going to make it worse, she can't have any because of you! You should be telling her they were awful!"
- But there's something else going on here. For one, the speaker is using the word "so," which is kind of weird in such a minimalist poem.
- Let's look at the next line, and see if we can put it all together.
and so cold
- Again, we get another line describing what made these plums so good—they're delicious, sweet, and cold.
- So the stanza that starts with asking for forgiveness actually ends up being mostly about how yummy these plums were. Maybe it's a hot summer day, which makes the cold plums even that more delicious.
- But, like we were saying in our discussion of line 11, it doesn't seem like our speaker would intentionally try to anger the person he's justifying his actions to by describing how good the plums she can't eat were.
- Instead, maybe he's just trying to give her some vicarious pleasure. If she can't eat the plums, maybe she'll get some enjoyment out of his note, and be happy that he liked the plums.
- Finally, not to be a Negative Nelly, but we have to point out that this is a bit of a non-apology. He's all I'm so sorry I ate your plums. Don't hate me. They were delicious. If we're being honest, there's the possibility that he's not all that sorry at all. Who could be sorry about eating delicious plums? Maybe he's just really worried his wife is going to put him in the doghouse.
- Then again, maybe we're just being cynical.