Back in 1934, William Carlos Williams sat down. Inspiration for his next poem struck him. I can just see it, he thought to himself. Eighty years from now, there will be a microblogging platform called Twitter where, in betwixt endless content about powerful men abusing women, and literal Nazis, people will delight in using my words to create tiny inside jokes for their friends. Yes, Williams muttered to himself. I must write this poem now so that it can become a meme in the year 2017. And so Williams picked up his pen and wrote “This Is Just to Say,” perhaps his most famous work behind “The Red Wheelbarrow.”
Here’s “This Is Just to Say,” just in case you’ve, say, forgotten everything you were taught in tenth-grade English class:
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
The poem has seen life as a meme before. Back in 2015, aping “This Is Just to Say” was en vogue online. “Williams did not become famous for writing poetry until he was almost too old to enjoy it,” Stephen Burt of Harvard told New York Magazine at the time. “I think he would have liked the attention.” Which is good because we’re doing this again. Except this time around, people aren’t imitating the form of the Williams poem with new content, but rather the opposite — taking his poem’s content and reappropriating it in new forms. Instead of the original gag — using the poem’s format to write about the topic at hand — people are just plucking the key terms — “icebox” and “plums” — and wedging them into song lyrics. Which is a markedly easier bit than trying to match Williams’s stanzas syllable for syllable while talking about Donald Trump or North Korea or Call Me by Your Name.
Editor’s note: The account of William Carlos Williams’s decision to write ‘This Is Just to Say” is absolutely, 100 percent accurate, and we did not make it up.