Two Poems by William Carlos Williams

This American poet lived from 1883 to 1983. He was also a doctor and delivered 2,000 babies during his career. Because he was busy in his medical practice during the day, he wrote at night. Over the weekends he met with artist friends.

His poetry is modern, but the form and vocabulary are easy to read and understand. His motto was “No idea but in things,” which is to say that the things in his poems must speak for themselves. He doesn’t explain them or generalize about them.

Read the two poems and at the end of each I have a few questions.

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

Here is a video of the poet reading his poem (in a terribly boring voice):

Questions about this poem:

  1. Is the poet really sorry that he’s eaten the plums? If not, how does he feel?
  2. Do you think his wife will be angry that he took the plums? Why not?

My answers:

  1. No, he doesn’t feel very sorry. He’s happy to have eaten the plums because they were delicious. To say thank you, he’s written this poem.
  2. I don’t think she’ll be angry when she finds this cute poem on the refrigerator. It would be different if the husband would always eat things from the refrigerator without telling his wife; that would be annoying.


Onto poem two:

Danse Russe

If when my wife is sleeping

and the baby and Kathleen

are sleeping

and the sun is a flame-white disc

in silken mists

above shining trees,-

if I in my north room

dance naked, grotesquely

before my mirror

waving my shirt round my head

and singing softly to myself:

“I am lonely, lonely,

I was born to be lonely,

I am best so!”

If I admire my arms, my face,

my shoulders, flanks, buttocks

against the yellow drawn shades,-


Who shall say I am not

the happy genius of my household?

dancing nude 

Questions about this poem:

  1. Is the poet in this poem a weirdo (he dances naked in his room)? What do you think?
  2. What’s your answer to the poet’s question “Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?” (a genius is a guardian spirit of a place, here of the poet’s house).

My answers:

  1. Dancing in front of the mirror without clothes on is definitely a bit weird. However, people do many weird things when they’re alone and that is perfectly okay when they don’t harm other people with their weird habits.
  2. I think the poet could be right, and he’s a special person who works a certain charm on his family. This dancing ritual clearly makes him happy and if he’s happy it affects his family in a positive way. But it depends how much naked dancing he does and whether he keeps it private. Too much of this and his family won’t be too happy with it. J

If you had different answers to these questions, let me know. I’m interested in your opinions!

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