Thoughts on “Variations on a Theme” by Kenneth Koch

Yesterday I talked about what is probably my favorite William Carlos Williams poem, “This is Just to Say.” Today I have another remix of that poem, this time somewhat more famous than the one I wrote.

Variations On A Theme By William Carlos Williams by Kenneth Koch

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

(Full text thanks to poemhunter.)

This poem is a riff on “This is Just to Say” which presents not one but four different ways that poem might have gone. I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite stanza since they are all so clever and work so well together.

I read this poem during either my modern poetry class in college or my advanced poetry writing class. I took them the same semester, with the same professor, and largely with the same students so the courses blend together. I didn’t make the connection before but this poem was probably in my mind when I wrote one of my own later that same year. (I thought I had seven different poems but it actually turned out to be seven parts of one poem that would ultimately be eight parts.)

Koch also pokes a bit of fun at Williams in the final part because Williams himself was also a poet and a doctor–this also comes up in Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein so you can see why I scheduled that post for April and why it’s coming up this week. I’m not entirely on board with that last exclamation point but since I didn’t write this particular poem it is, of course, not my decision to make.

I will leave you with one of my favorite web comic of all time which also gives a nod to the inimitable William Carlos Williams: