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:
Using modified version of William Carlos Williams' "This is Just to Say" to let roommate know you swiped his food will never not be funny.— Maggie Koerth-Baker (@maggiekb1) June 24, 2009
But with the advent of line breaks on Twitter, things got better:
This is just to sayI have putthe womenin the bindersForgive methey left work earlynow dinneris so cold.— Kieran Healy (@kjhealy) October 17, 2012
This is just to sayI'm eating strawberrieswhich are indeed sweet and so cold— Anna (@annamac84) May 25, 2013
This Is Just To SayI have eatenthe Chipotle burritothat was inthe iceboxand whichyou were probablysaving for lunchIt was very tasty— Jeffrey Young (@JeffreyYoungHC) May 17, 2013
@emilytheslayer This is just to say I have takenthe kryptonitethat was inthe Batcaveand whichyou were probablysavingto defeatClark— Yagathai (@Yagathai) May 25, 2013
This is just to say I have eaten the grapes that were in the fridge and which I wanted to save for later wait who am I talking to— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) March 10, 2013
This is just to sayI have eaten the plumsthat were inthe iceboxAnd alsoI drank the purple stuff— Tween Hobo (@TweenHobo) March 15, 2013
Before any of that genius, people had to get more creative with backslashes:
@wamitchell This is just to say / I have burst / the taters / that were inthe fannypack <3— Amanda Hess (@amandahess) April 8, 2011
This is just to say/I wrote a blunt letter about you/For that fellowship you might have wanted/Forgive me, but the truth makes great prose.— Mat Johnson (@mat_johnson) April 10, 2009
Dear Roomie: This is just to say I think the kitten stole your toothbrush/which I found it in the bathtub/You may wish to wash it in bleach.— Elizabeth Bear (@matociquala) November 17, 2009
Or just reference the poem's contents:
Any note I write has a one-in-twenty chance of turning into an adaption of "This Is Just To Say" by William Carlos Williams.— Aziz (@phylhrmnix) June 14, 2009
Or just use the first section of it:
This is just to say I have eaten the pluots that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast.— jonathan gold (@thejgold) September 13, 2010
This is just to say I have eaten the Otter Pops that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast.— Louis Peitzman (@LouisPeitzman) June 1, 2011
Or maybe just the first sentence:
this is just to say, i still hate you all.— moe tkacik (@moetkacik) April 28, 2013
It is basically the nicest way to apologize while not really apologizing:
This is just to say I have eaten everything I brought in my lunchbox. Please forgive me. It was all delicious. But I am still hungry.— Rohan Maitzen (@RohanMaitzen) May 27, 2013
Or just to share something about your life:
This is just to say: I had a Coca-Cola last night for the first time in probably forever, & it was delicious, so sweet & so cold.— Amy Woolard (@awoo_) May 27, 2013
...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).