William Carlos Williams Poetry Analysis

Modified: 8th Jun 2017
Wordcount: 1120 words

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William Carlos Williams was a grasping poet of the 20th century. Most of Williams’ work is centered on his personal life and the things that happened in it. Williams was born on September 17, 1883. He wrote his poetry from his late teens until his death on March 4, 1963 at the age of 79. Williams has a substantial number of both prose and poetry writings. He believed that: “prose has to do with the fact of an emotion” and “poetry has to do with the dynamization of emotion into a separate form” (volume 1, 219). What Williams is saying here is that in prose you are allowed to show emotion and in poetry that emotion must be hidden behind different forms.

“This Is Just To Say” (1934) is one of the noted poems by William Carlos Williams. Written as it is a note left on an ice box, Williams’ poem seems to the reader like a bit of found poetry. Metrically, the poem exhibits no regularity of stress or of syllable count.

The CliffsNotes analysis states:”Building on sibilance and concluding on `so cold,` the poem implies that sweet, fruity taste contrasts the coldness of a human relationship that forbids sharing or forgiveness for a minor breach of etiquette.” The words “Forgive me,” written as a command, stress on the sense of regret conveyed by the speaker. This hopeless need for forgiveness is an obvious confession of forbidden action, followed by Williams’ visual imagery of the plums suggests that this poem could be concerned with the uselessness or self-entrapment of sexual desire.

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Another, straightforward, understanding is that the writer of the note on the refrigerator tries to replace the experience of eating the plums with a clear, brief description:”They were delicious / So sweet and so cold.” Forgiveness in the poem hinges on the success of the description. This model serves well for the poet’s task, i.e. forsakes actual experience than mere words. The poem will triumph if the reader redeems the poet’s transgression.

In another view, the poem was written from Williams to his wife. He ate her plums from the ice box and wanted to leave a small apology in the form of poetry on a napkin. She did answer to his poem with one of her own – “Little boy”

When reading “Poem” the first question, that the reader asks is, what exactly is Williams trying to tell us. The image is actual, the text of the poem is brief. The poem surfs as an extended metaphor. The cat is cautiously climbing over the jamcloset, placing each foot accurately. The reader’s first task is to define the meaning of “jamcloset,” which is naturally defined. But, this word is not defined in Webster’s or any other dictionaries. This implies that Williams intended for this work to invoke an image. “Jam packed” could be something that is chock-full with things to the point that nothing more can be added. Perhaps, with this word, Williams wants to show the reader an image of a closet jammed with stuff, with a cat carefully transferring to the top. Contrary, the word “jam” could denote a fruit spread used on toasted bread, in which case, the word “jamcloset” implies a pantry and there is the suggestion that the cat is after a tasty jam. In both cases, the emphasis of the poem is on the cat’s endpoint.

The reader sees the cat stepping so gracefully, at first on one foot and then on the other. The short lines and smooth flow of words signify the watchful and agile movements of the cat. Just in the last stanza, the reader realizes that the cat has moved so cautiously, just to get into the “pit of an empty flowerpot.” This changes the image of the precise and careful cat into something funny. The first guess of the reader is that the cat is moving precisely for a specific goal. This is something that the reader would judge as a valuable intention from a human perspective. This, however, is not the case, as the cat ends up squeezed into the flower pot, which Williams, clearly shows, was the animals` aim after all.

As this implies, the imagery says more about the reader, than it does for the cat. The humans are goal-oriented. The thoughtful, intended movement of the cat, that Williams describes, logically leaves a feeling in the reader that the cat has a certain goal, whether it is capturing a mouse or something else, but as it turns out, the cat has another thing in mind.

What Williams is telling the readers is that, the world follows its own rules. The cat is captivated by and wants to sit in the flower pot, which does not make sense from a human point of view, but there is and that is the reality.

There may be no goals, purpose or meaning from a human point of view, in the world, but it will be still meaningful. Children comprehend this, and a child would possibly laugh on the flower-potted cat and realize that, the world looks different depending on the perspectives. Grown-ups are likely to lose their joy in seeing the unforeseen and exploring the unknown by disregarding viewpoints that are new and different. As this shows, Williams’ use of imagery proposes meaning at multiple levels with concise and brief poetry.

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In “Poem,” the poet shows an image that implies more, than it states implicitly. The cat, so prudently placing first one foot and then the other delicately into the pit of the flowerpot, not only carries the inquisitive nature of the animal, but also the fact that the cat shows a part of the world, that adult humans often evade. By amazing the reader, with the cat’s destination, Williams delicately implies that adults are too foreseeable. We, like children and cats, should try to see the world with different eyes, and perhaps try twisting into the new perspectives that could seem unknown at first. Maybe, we should not smile at the apparent insanity of the cat until we have sat in a flowerpot on top of a “jamcloset” and seen things from cat’s perspective.

Source list

Litz, A. Walton, & MacGowan (Eds.). The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams: Volume II 1939-1962. New York: New Directions Books, 1986.

Modern American poetry. On “This is Just to Say”. 04.25.2011

Modern American poetry. On “Poem”. 04.25.2011

This Is Just To Say, This Is Just To Say. 04.25.2011


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