This is just to say / that the internet / is the perfect place / for one imagist poemby Harry Harris / December 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
It’s tempting to think of memes as a uniquely modern thing, aided and abetted by the language of the internet. Though the term was initially coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 to describe an idea that becomes shared within a culture, online, it has taken on a slightly different life. Memes on Twitter and Tumblr retain this virality, but also have a uniquely absurdist comedic nature.
Google’s dictionary now lists two definitions: “1. An element of culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means” and “2. An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.”
Sometimes these internet memes have cloudy origin points, though the website Know Your Meme is impressively thorough in tracking them down. Occasionally, however, the opposite is true—occasionally, with the benefit of hindsight, it feels like something was destined to become a meme from its very genesis. This is true in the case of William Carlos Williams’ 1932 imagist poem “This Is Just To Say.”
Please someone tell me why the plums in the icebox is a meme now; how did this come to pass
— Megan Lavengood (@meganlavengood) November 28, 2017
Over the past few weeks, the poem has become the meme-du-jour on Twitter, after initially coming on the scene a few years ago. More recently, buoyed by an increased character limit, the meme has developed from people simply aping the form of the poem to remixing it.
Users are pulling out the poem’s most recognisable symbols—the plums; the icebox—and splicing them with other poems, other cultural references, other memes, while still making it apparent what they’re referring to.
a little bit of cold plums in my life
a little bit of icebox by my side
a little bit of breakfast is what you need
a little bit of forgiveness, what I seek
a little bit of delicious, thats those plums
a little bit of sweet plums all night long
a little bit of cold plums here I am
— thom (@thwphipps) November 28, 2017
The meme life of “This Is Just To Say” did not begin online. If we take a meme to mean an idea, or piece of culture, that is then shared or reappropriated, then “This Is Just To Say” fits that description from the off.
As Williams himself revealed in a 1950 interview with John W. Gerber, the poem was originally just a note he left for his wife: “It’s curious how a thing of this sort, which was really just a passing gesture, actually took place just as it says here,” he said.
Kristen Treen, a Teaching Fellow in American Literature at UCL, argues that it is exactly this status as a piece of…