Saturday, January 15, 2005

Reply (Crumpled on Her Desk)


(crumped on her desk)

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 teapot
with enough tea leaves
for you to make tea if you
prefer-Just light the gas-
boil the water and put 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.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Like This Is Just to Say, Reply (Crumpled on Her Desk) takes the form of a found poem, a refrigerator note-though it probably never got as far as the refrigerator, some literary critics speculate, Williams may have taken "a note left by his wife and turned it into a poem".
    Flossie Williams's reply to "This Is Just to Say" (from the note to the poem in The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, volume 1, 1909-1939, edited by A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan):
      Florence Williams's "reply" to "This Is Just to Say" is included as a "Detail" in the partially published Detail & Parody for the poem Paterson (a manuscript at SUNY Buffalo); it first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (November 1982), p. 145. Since WCW chose to include the reply in his own sequence it seems likely that he took a note left by his wife and turned it into a "poem."
The researcher goes on to relate that the text is taken from (Buffalo archives) typescript .

At first appearances a casual communictaion forgiveness is hidden by neither being offered nor refused. Flossie almost seems ridden with guilt, a familiar feeling among women today, guilt for leaving the house. It is a response to his tactic of eliciting not only forgiveness but permission to raid the icebox again. She walks him through making tea in case the cold coffee she has poured would not be satisfactory, proferring suggestions as to what he can make himself for a meal in case the sandwiches aren't what he wanted. A nervous and unsure remanding in motherly fashion, withdrawn and absent he's found her reply crumpled. Both ironic and affectionate, it is symbolically angry and instructional as if she has taken up raising her husband. With boyish and shifty charm William Carlos Williams has dared to eat plums and tells of bittersweet and troubling consequences.


Fisher-Wirth, Ann. "The Allocations of Desire: 'This Is Just to Say' and Flossie Williams's 'Reply.'" William Carlos Williams Review 22.2: 47-56. Osborn

Text taken from "Untitled"
Accessed May 11 2001

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

This is Just to Say

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

- William Carlos Williams

A 'found poem' in the form of a note left on the refrigerator door using a recurrence of personal pronouns instead of phonetics, This is Just to Say (1934) is also a typography left open to a wide variety of interpretations that veterans of marriage and cohabitation can enjoy as well as understand. Williams once recalled that this poem was an actual note he had written to his wife-"and she replied very beautifully" It provides directions for the eye that reads the lines silently and that teases out the poem's meanings.

Leonard M. Trawick in World, Self, Poem: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from the "Jubilation of Poets says it..... might suggest three possible readings. The poem could be concerned with the uselessness or self-entrapment of sexual desire, comparable to "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame." There's the potential Oedipal reading, with the boy thwarted in an attempt to comprehend his origin; to learn of it from his mother. Or there's the reading that would suggest self-referentiality; it is the poem itself that "means nothing."

A more subtle literary analysis by Charles Altieri in his essay Presence and Reference in a Literary Text: The Example of Williams debates the merits of this little poem as having a more sophisticated intent--

" that it creates and inhabits a middle ground between myths of presence, on the one hand, and Derridean absence, on the other, and functions as a speech act to affirm community and communication. A request for forgiveness for the small theft of some plums, the poem enacts the relationship, the relatedness with the wife, that permits the speaker to expect that he will be forgiven...."just saying"-it is an ordinary utterance, something just said, that, because of the way it calls the community, or marriage, into being, and creates the other in her freedom to forgive or withhold forgiveness, attains justness." Altieri writes that in the poem, "A strong sense of humanity ultimately prevails. . . . The justness of the speaker's poem is its recognition of his weakness and its lovely combination of self-understanding with an implicit faith in his wife's capacity to understand and accept his deed and, beyond that, to comprehend his human existence as a balance of weakness, self-knowledge, and concern"

Inspired by hunger playfully raiding the icebox like some Dennis the Menace caught on tiptoe with hands in the cookie jar, Williams admits to his Dagwood raiding of Blondie's refrigerator, piling the stolen food high, to make one of his infamous midnight sandwiches. The narrative poem on the surface gives a glimpse into one of his slice of life poems on the subject of stealing plums in the words and moments he did steal the plums, stole them from his own icebox, stole them away from the breakfast that he might himself have had on them, reveled in the stealing and loved the confessing of stealing.

Much anthologized and frequently parodied (see:Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams) William Carlos Williams is Patron Saint of American Poetry and master of the ordinary phrase ....and for Flossie, in fair exchange one delightful poem for the plums she was saving.

Fisher-Wirth, Ann. "The Allocations of Desire: 'This Is Just to Say' and Flossie Williams's 'Reply.'" William Carlos Williams Review 22.2: 47-56. Osborn

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


-- William Carlos Williams

It is in Paterson that William Carlos Williams lays out his famous line, "No ideas but in things". The Red Wheelbarrow is an example of this concept, Williams said that he wrote the poem in response to seeing the objects described in the piece when he looked out the window while attending at the bedside of a dying young girl. One thing is for sure Williams had an economy for words.

The Red Wheelbarrow is a verse libre poem of the twentieth century and is Part XXI of Spring and All in Williams' Selected Poems. The structure of this piece is clear. Composed in couplets; the odd-numbered lines, the first, third, fifth and seventh, have three words; the remaining even numbered lines have one word of two syllables; the two-syllable word is in three of the four cases are nouns --barrow, water, chickens. These nouns are then separated from the natural modifiers so that these modifiers --wheel, rain, white--become more prominent becoming key words in their own right.

Here is where Williams’s genius becomes apparent. He has taken two somewhat undistinguished lines of blank verse

--so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens --

and created a composition of words. He has suggested the importance of image through the still-life representation, Imagist in style, Williams uses a collage of words, pointing his finger at to show the reader rather than tell in a direct presentation of the material to the senses.

These diverse fragments are set side by side changes everything. Red usually brings to mind warmth, but here it is cold as the metal of the wheelbarrow, hardened by the wet glaze. The focal point is the wheelbarrow beside the white chicken and there in that place, the wheelbarrow is redder, the chicken even more white, all this is set against an obscured and hazy background of questions from the reader exactly does the implied yet missing owner and the chicken depend on this simple piece of garden equipment?

In a very real sense a painting of a landscape that is a representation of the actual landscape. "No ideas but in things," William Carlos Williams writes in the first page of Patterson, and to hammer the point home, in spite of its brevity and with so much to be discovered within eight short lines, he has composed an unpretentious but dramatic work.

In a Dark Time: William Carlos Willams: