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To a Poor Woman is a poem written by the American modernist poet William Carlos Williams. This poem appears in his poetry collection The Collected Poems, Vol. 1: 1909-1939 which was published in 1951. In this short and simple poem, the poet has captured a singular image of a woman eating a plum. This piece was written in 1934 when America was going through the Great Depression. Thus, even though the poem seems simple and concise, it is layered with a great deal of meanings and contexts.
About the Author
Born on 17th September 1883, in Rutherford, New Jersey, William Carlos Williams is an American poet, writer, and physician. He is famously known to be associated with the era of modernism and imagism, which he has depicted in this work as well. Even though Williams was a practising physician, he made significant contributions to the modernist movement in American literature. His poetic style is characterised by vivid imagery, simple language and a portrayal of the ordinary, often drawing inspiration from the American landscape and the lives of common people. Aside from his poetry, Williams also wrote essays, short stories, and plays. His best-known works include the epic poem Paterson (1963), a reflection on the city of Paterson, New Jersey, where he lived and worked. Some of his famous works are The Red Wheelbarrow (1923), The Wedge (1944), and Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962)
The poem consists of 15 lines that are divided into 4 stanzas. Except for the first stanza, which has three lines, the rest of the stanzas have 4 lines each. The poet has not used any punctuation marks in the poem, even to mark the end of the sentence. Owing to this, and Enjambment, the poem has a flowing and continuous structure.
Lines 1- 3
munching a plum on the street a paper bag of them in her hand
The poem starts with a third-person omniscient speaker describing someone eating a plum. From the title, the readers can gather that the subject of the poem is a poor, old woman. The woman is seen munching a plum while standing on a street. She also holds a paper bag full of plums in her other hand.
The poem describes a simple image of an old woman eating a plum. It is important to note that the first word of the first line is not capitalised. Neither has the poet used any punctuation marks to separate or put breaks in between phrases. This gives a very continuous, and flowing quality to the poem.
They taste good to her They taste good to her. They taste good to her
In this stanza, a simple sentence, that coveys that the woman likes the taste of the plum, is repeated thrice.
The repetition of the phrase “they taste good to her” establishes in the minds of the readers that the woman is enjoying the plum. Thus, even though it is a simple fruit, the woman finds enjoyment and happiness in eating it.
You can see it by the way she gives herself to the one half sucked out in her hand
Here, the speaker directly addresses the readers by calling them “You”. The speaker backs up his claim that the woman is enjoying the fruit by telling the readers that she sucks the rest of the fruit from her hand.
Even though the image is heartwarming, it also evokes feelings of pity and sorrow for the woman. While the poem doesn’t dwell on her economic circumstances, the readers understand that enjoying a fruit is not something the woman can afford regularly.
Comforted a solace of ripe plums seeming to fill the air They taste good to her
Next, the speaker uses a single word “comforted” which might indicate the satisfaction of the woman after eating the fruit or of the speaker who witnesses her enjoying the fruit. The speaker says that the peace of this simple activity fills up the atmosphere. Lastly, the speaker again repeats that the plum tastes good to the poor, old woman.
The plums in the poem can be seen as a symbol of life’s small pleasures or blessings. The act of eating the plum becomes a metaphor for appreciating the goodness that life has to offer. Additionally, the poem also shows how the act of witnessing wholesome moments like these also imparts joy.