Stephen Matterson: On "This is Just to Say"

The poem, cast in the form of a note left on the refrigerator, sounds found. As with the found poem, the lack of a mediating voice leaves the reader with a wide range of potential meanings. Oddly, although this much-anthologized poem is firmly in the canon of twentieth-century poetry, there is no general agreement as to its theme. Any thematic interpretation is made self-consciously and somewhat uncertainly. As with the found poem, 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.

For example, I 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."

From World, Self, Poem: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from the "Jubilation of Poets." Ed. Leonard M. Trawick. Copyright © 1990 by The Kent State University Press.


Title Stephen Matterson: On "This is Just to Say" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Stephen Matterson Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 19 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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