I’m always having driveway moments with This American Life, even when I’m not in the car. This American Life always manages to weave together the most engaging narratives, in turn humorous and heartbreaking. A recent episode, Mistakes Were Made, discusses the non-apology.

Act Two of this episode reflects on a famous poem written by William Carlos Williams, This Is Just To Say:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

This poem has the notion of an apology — “forgive me” — but at no point does the speaker actually say, “I’m sorry.” Instead of an actual apology, the poem concludes with a description of just how good the plums were. This Is Just To Say has been spoofed many times. Here are a couple of choice sendups:

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.

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!

Perhaps part of what makes this poem so memorable is its effective economy of words.  A little while back, Time magazine featured an article called Haiku Nation in which they describe, perhaps as a response to our overly verbose and word-packed culture (guilty, as charged), things like four-word film reviews (an example: “Tense. Intense. In tents” for The Blair Witch Project) and six-word novels.

You might even make the argument that Twitter and 12seconds are a sort of Web 2.0 expansion of this same idea.

I think if I ever preached a sermon this short (or this memorable), people might actually stand and cheer (instead of falling asleep or throwing things at me).

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