This Is Just To Say: William Carlos Williams, a Posthumous Twitter Sensation


In 1934, William Carlos Williams wrote a poem that was very simple. It was less a poem and more a brief apology, the type of thing that could be scrawled on the back of a napkin. His wife even responded to it as if it was a part of their daily life. That poem would go on to become a Big Fucking Deal, and almost 80 years later, it found a second life – this time, on social media.

If you haven’t read “This Is Just To Say”, you can do so in less than 20 seconds, right now. It is, according to This American Life, perhaps “the most spoofed poem around” (which they declared before airing lots of spoofs of the poem). In 2010, it was successfully, politely mocked by Laura Jayne Martin in McSweeney’s for a piece called “This Is Just To Say That I’m Tired of Sharing An Apartment with William Carlos Williams“. In that piece, Martin takes on the voice of Williams’ disgruntled roommate, who is frustrated with his tendency to take her things and leave apologetic notes because of it:

“This is like the millionth time I’ve come home to an empty fridge. And no, leaving a note does not cut it anymore.”

Martin wasn’t the first, only a good example, of those identifying and playing upon the easily adapted quality of Williams’s work. “This Is Just To Say” has a quality to it, literary scholars like Stephen Matterson argue, that makes it particularly malleable:

“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.”

“This Is Just To Say” is magical because of this personal, endless quality to it. That quality is something that has been taken advantage of in a medium like Twitter, where people have endlessly broken the poem down and repurposed it for their own jokes and commentary.

In the beginning, people would just talk about the poem:

But with the advent of line breaks on Twitter, things got better:

Before any of that genius, people had to get more creative with backslashes:

Or just reference the poem’s contents:

Or just use the first section of it:

Or maybe just the first sentence:

It is basically the nicest way to apologize while not really apologizing:

Or just to share something about your life:

This fascination with Williams’s poem can’t just be isolated on Twitter; it was all over the Internet before Twitter was even really a thing. It’s also taken off on Tumblr

…and Pinterest as well.

Which is just to say: It’s a very good poem. That is maybe slightly, ever so slightly, overused. But it’s so cute, we’ll just say it’s fine and give it a pass. After all, it’s so sweet (and so cold, maybe).

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