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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Number 221: More Plums– William Carlos Williams " To A Poor Old Woman"

To A Poor Old Woman

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

-- William Carlos Williams

Hap Notes: First off, we can conclude that WCW liked plums, eh? More than that, he had an affinity for them, what they stood for to him, what they tasted like to him.

A good ripe plum is a delicious thing, no doubt, and there are many varieties and colors although generally we are most familiar with the purple prunus domestica. The plum (as with many fruits including apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries) are from the Rose family. Plums are often called gages (store that tidbit for future poetry/literature). The slightly white dusty coating on a plum is called an epicuticular wax (or bloom) and is biologically there to prevent moisture and decay- it's easily rubbed off, as you probably know. (Don't eat the pits/seeds- they aren't good for you. Don't know why anyone WOULD but, just in case. Actually I eat the whole apple when I eat one- core and all- so maybe the plum warning IS necessary for goofs like me.)

Let's go back to the poem. The repetition of the line "they taste good to her" was particularly riveting to me when I read this poem years ago. It not only emphasizes the way she is appreciatively eating the plums, but also, the phrase strikes and comforts at the same time. Sure the plums taste delicious to her, sure she's "munching" them, but there's something else here and I don't believe it is her appreciation that we are feeling (although we can feel that, too.) Once again, this isn't just about plums (take it that way if you want to, though) it's about our feelings and the poet's feelings about what is going on here.

You see an older lady. She's eating some plums. She seems to like them. But we're getting something else out of this, if we're thoughtful humans. We can relate to the feeling of eating something we find tasty. Now, is it just because a food tastes good that we like it or is there something else, something emotional that goes with taste? WCW tells us this woman is "poor." How does that change our feelings about the plums?

How does her enjoyment "fill the air"? Do we get some solace from her enjoyment? Why?

I want you to remember that when Williams wrote this poem- the form and the repetition was brand new- like a bucket of cold water thrown in the face of traditional poetry.

Here's where we've talked about Williams before: (yesterday)


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