Posts Tagged ‘American Literature’

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This is Just to Say…

February 16, 2010

“This is Just to Say”
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I read this poem and it really threw me for a loop. I know I’ve read it before in some English class somewhere, but I don’t remember any discussion about it. I’ve done a little research and a lot of people seem to view it as having some metaphorical meanings. About the relationship between the author of the note (most seem to think that the poem is written in the form of a note) and who it is supposed to be to, latent sexuality, selfishness, etc.

Maybe my personal interpretation stems from me really liking happy endings and optimistic interpretations of things. I think it’s beautiful and simple. I think it’s even a little romantic. The author knows the other person was probably saving the plums for breakfast, but they eat them anyway. I felt like it was sort of about the give and take of love, because the author feels comfortable enough taking the plums and knows that they will be forgiven, and means to show how much the plums really gave him pleasure.

…But that isn’t completely certain. They sort of issue a command, “Forgive me” as opposed to “I’m sorry.” And once again, the author knew that the other person was probably saving them for breakfast. A friend of mine thinks that the author is even rubbing in the selfish act at the end. “So sweet,” “so cold.” It’s a completely reasonable interpretation. It’s a selfish act. I guess you can look at that selfish act in many different ways.

And I think that is sort of what makes it such a neat little poem; it is ambiguous and can be interpreted in a lot of ways, despite the fact that it is so sparse and bare bones.

My aunt is taking a poetry writing class at Kansas University, and the class used this poem for an exercise. The students were asked to replace words in this poem with other words and to watch the meaning of the poem change. I think part of the reason for the exercise was to show how much every word in a poem counts.

I have taken
the records
that were on
the bookshelf

and which
you probably
wanted
yourself

Forgive me
they were important
so quiet
and so warm


Does anyone else want to try? Thoughts on “This is Just to Say”?

This post will be cross-posted on my American Literature class’s blog, You Made Me Theorize.

-ATB

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Thoughts on To Build a Fire

February 15, 2010

After a week in which nature effectively paralyzed our nations capitol, it’s as good a time as any to discuss what it means to read about a guy dying in the snow in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” which we were to read for American Literature this week.

I’ll admit, it isn’t a topic I can really relate to. I’ve felt cold, but not one hundred degrees below freezing cold. My impression is that London expected that the vast majority of his audience actually can’t relate, and that he could bring the awareness of the perils and power of nature to a wider audience through his writing. I can certainly appreciate his goal.

But this means doesn’t justify the end. It stands that reading about a guy dying in the snow is terribly boring.

In my experience, the fact stands that it is awfully hard to make a story with a single character work well. It can be argued that the husky in the story is also a character, but if this is the case, both characters are still singular. They scarcely communicate at all and when they do, it is through gesture and sound. That is to say, there is no dialogue in the story, and character development is driven purely by their environment.

Once again, stories like this, with as few as one or two characters and no dialogue, can work, but I found myself slogging through “To Build a Fire” as if it were three feet of snow, and when I finally finished, I was really, honestly glad. The story reads in the same monotonous, dramatic style throughout, as if delivered by a turn-of-the-20th-century Bear Grylls. I found that, living in a world with cars and central heat, I couldn’t really relate to the character’s struggles.

Which brings up an important question; is “To Build a Fire” simply an obsolete story? Are the issues it brings up even relevant anymore, in a world where no one has to trek along the Oregon trail in negative seventy degree weather?

Considering the recent earthquake in Haiti, The Kashmir Earthquake and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, The Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 and other recent catastrophic events, it is obvious that nature pulls no punches and still poses a threat to people all over the world. Where “To Build a Fire” differs is that it deals with dangers of nature on an individual level, the aforementioned events are mostly collective concerns. However, it stands that collectives are made up of many individuals, and people should still be wary and educated about such dangers.

With that said, reading “To Build a Fire” is much like hearing a lecture from the old-timer on Sulpher Creek, and it is possible that what the story has to say could have more effectively been presented in the form of a public service announcement or a non-fiction article. And what I will say was positive about the story was that it replicated the traveler’s panic and helplessness in myself, at least for a few pages toward the end, and I’m definitely not going to go outside in one hundred below weather without a partner anytime soon. I’m sure as far as Jack London would still be concerned, whatever gets the point across is to some extent a success.

This post will be cross-posted on my American Literature class’ blog, You Made Me Theorize. Note the My Bloody Valentine reference. Know that this is awesome.

-ATB