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The poem, cast in the form of a note left on the refrigerator, sounds found. As with the found poem, the lack of a mediating voice leaves the reader with a wide range of potential meanings. Oddly, although this much-anthologized poem is firmly in the canon of twentieth-century poetry, there is no general agreement as to its theme. Any thematic interpretation is made self-consciously and somewhat uncertainly. 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.

For example, I might suggest three possible readings. The poem could be concerned with the uselessness or self-entrapment of sexual desire, comparable to "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame." There's the potential Oedipal reading, with the boy thwarted in an attempt to comprehend his origin; to learn of it from his mother. Or there's the reading that would suggest self-referentiality; it is the poem itself that "means nothing."


From World, Self, Poem: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from the "Jubilation of Poets." Ed. Leonard M. Trawick. Copyright © 1990 by The Kent State University Press.