Let us consider this poem by William Carlos Williams:
This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
A Growing Appetite
Man, after reading that I feel like eating a plum… what about you? I used to think that this poem had no particular meaning, that it was a short and sweet apology to an angry and plum-less victim. But upon discussing this poem with an old friend, they made an important point, and this changed everything.
Adam, Eve, and Everything In Between
Where else have we heard of someone eating a forbidden fruit? That’s right, the story of Adam and Eve. Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She knew this wasn’t allowed, and yet she couldn’t resist her temptation.
In a similar fashion, Williams (who I am assuming ate the plums) went to the “forbidden” ice box and ate the plums. He behaved like Eve.
What I find fascinating about Williams, is his self-awareness when he chose to eat the plums. He states that he knew the person was saving these plums for breakfast. He was aware of the consequences, and asks for forgiveness right away, as he knows he will have made the person sad.
Even with all this in mind, he chose to eat those plums. Because their cold, sweet, and succulent taste was tempting. And this temptation he could not resist.
A Certain Weakness in the Human Condition
This parallel with Adam and Eve allows the theme of temptation to surface in this poem. But Williams choosing to eat the plums also reveals a certain weakness in the human condition.
This poem exposes how vulnerable we all are to temptation and desire. It highlights how easily we as humans succumb to our yearnings, despite the consequences.
It seems no matter how stubborn someone may be, there is always a desire that will overpower their resistance. For Eve, it happened to be apples. For Williams, it happened to be plums.
No one is invulnerable. And that, is our weakness.
An Apologetic Confession
And so, as I reflected on this poem and it’s true meaning, I realized this is not an apology at all. But rather, a confession. Williams is confessing his true nature, which is in fact the nature of all beings.
The stanza in which he asks for forgiveness is not out of regret of eating the plums. He is asking to be forgiven for allowing himself to cave into desire; for allowing himself to surrender to temptation. He is apologizing for his brief moment of weakness, not the byproduct of this moment.
He tries to justify his actions by revealing the basis for his desire. In explaining the tempting features of the plums, he completes his confession.
The manner with which he explains the plum’s succulent features leaves the reader with the sense that he wants more. He would eat those plums all over again if he had the chance. Such is human desire, and our inability to oppose it.
And so this cannot be an apology for eating the plums themselves, as he is not sorry for doing so and would do it again.
He is merely confessing his act and what lead up to it.
It would be foolish to deny that a characteristic of the human condition is our vulnerability to temptation. A certain weakness over comes us in such situations.
Williams beautifully highlights such faults in human nature with this poem, which is short and sweet, just like his plums.
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