Life's a pudding full of plums
--W. S. Gilbert, "The Gondoliers," Act I (1889)

Nostalgic for plum
I bow among white flowers
and the tears begin

--Matsua Basho (1644-1694), from Travelogue of Weather--Beaten Bones

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner
Eating a Christmas pie.
He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum,
And cried, "What a good boy am I!"

--old nursery rhyme

Shall I come see
plum blossoms in every stream
and wet my sleeves
in unpluckable water
as I do now?

--Lady Ise (late 9th century Japan)

If you would like to know just why We loved each other all thro' plums,
I'll tell you how it came about,
If you would like to know just why.
Love always comes while we're asleep,
If we're dark and of either sex!
In two or three words this is how
We fell in love all about plums!

A fine big orchard uncle had,
And I had well, a cousin sweet!
We loved each other unawares.
A fine big orchard uncle had.
And the birds all went there to eat.
For the spring there prepared their meals.
A fine big orchard uncle had,
And I had well, a cousin sweet!

One fine morn we went for a walk
In the orchard with fair Mariette,
All loving and gay and refreshed.
One fine morn we went for a walk.
The cricket and his little friends
Expressly hummed a hymn for us;
One fine morning we sauntered forth
In the orchard with fair Mariette.

On ev'ry side, from here and there,
The birds were singing on the branches,
In ev'ry note upon the scale.
On ev'ry side, from here and there,
The fields in holiday attire,
Were bedecked with buttercups.
On ev'ry side, from here and there,
The birds were singing on the branches.

After we reached the orchard wall,
My cousin glanced up at the plums
And some of them she'd like to eat,
After we reached the orchard wall.
The plum tree, which was low, she shook,
Letting fall just a few of them,
After we reached the orchard wall,
My cousin glanced up at the plums.

She picked up one, and took a bit,
And off'ring me: "Take it", she said.
Surprised, my heart went beating fast,
She picked up one, and took a bit.
Her little white teeth on the edge
Had made marks just like dainty point-lace;
She picked up one, and took a bit,
And off'ring me: "Take it", she said.

That was all, but it was enough;
That small fruit told me lots of secrets;
(oh, had I known that which I know!)
That was all, but it was enough.
I bit it, as you may believe,
In the marks of her ruby lips:
That was all, but it was enough;
That small fruit told me lots of secrets.

Yes, ladies, thus it came about.
We loved each other all through plums:
Do not think it was otherwise.
Yes, ladies, thus it came about.
If in your midst there may be some
Who have understood a diff'rent way,
So much the worse! For that was how
We loved each other all through plums.

--Alphonse Daudet's "The Plums," translated by Samuel Bryne

Sweeter than that nurse Amalthea skimm'd
For the boy Jupiter: and here, undimm'd
By any touch, a bunch of blooming plums
Ready to melt between an infant's gums

--John Keats' Endymion, Book 2, ll. 449-52

That the cool drink from the well tastes so good, That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard, and of the orange-orchard--that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.

--Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, "The Compost," ll. 38-41

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(Prunus domestica)

Cultivated since prehistoric times, this drupe of the Prunus family was said to have been introduced into Greece from Syria or Persia by Alexander the Great himself. The European Prunus domestica, in fact, is thought to be a hybrid of Prunus cerasifera (the cherry plum) and Prunus spinosa (the sloe).

From Greece the plum spread throughout most of the temperate zone--and was planted in Massachusettes after an order was placed in 1629. American poet Helen Chasin says this about "The Word Plum":

The word plum is delicious

pout and push, luxury of
self-love, and savoring murmur

full in the mouth and falling
like fruit

taut skin
pierced, bitten, provoked into
juice, and tart flesh

and reply, lip and tongue
of pleasure.

William Carlos Williams says this in "This is Just to Say" (1934):
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

[Many thanks to Alan Hickman of Schwäbisch Gmünd for the contribution.]

Other varieties of plum include:

  1. Prunus italica (greengages), which are still found wild in Asia Minor and were possibly introduced to northern Europe by the Romans. They disappeared entirely from Europe in the Middle Ages and were not reintroduced until the 18th century.
  2. Prunus salicina and Prunus triflora (Japanese plums), which are larger, cone-shaped, mild and sweet, and range in color from gold to orange-red.
  3. Prunus institia (damsons), which originated in Damascus, Syria, and were brought to Europe during the Crusades, in the 12th century--possibly by the French Duc d'Anjou after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
  4. Prunus cerasifera (cherry plums, or myrobalan), which originated in the Balkans, Caucasus, and Western Asia and were introduced to England in the 16th century--thence to the New World.
  5. Prunus maritima (American beach plums), which are native to the U.S. and were consumed by Native Americans before being adopted by European Settlers.
  6. Prunus americana (wild plums), which are native to North America.
To this day, plums remain an important part of Azerbaijani cuisine--and they are notorious made into slivovitz, the potent Hungarian and central European brandy--and the French liqueur Mirabelle, which last was unforgettably introduced to me by Danielle Moreau in Tours and her family in Azay-le-Rideau.

Compare these to Thingazar Sayadaw's story 14, of his famous Burmese Monk's Tales: Aloft the Plum Tree:

Prologue: One morning, after the learned monks had eaten the alms food offered by him, King Mindon bewailed the fact that not one among his teachers had become an arahat. "My lords," said the king, ''I build you fine monasteries and I offer you aIms food regularly. In return, you do show me the way to piety, but I feel poorly recompensed, for no one among my lords has striven enough to reach the state of arahatship." All the other monks remained silent, but the Thingazar Sayadaw could not let the king's criticism pass unchallenged. "Your Majesty," he replied, "we are aloft the plum tree and you are criticizing us from the ground."

Two travelers were making a perilous journey. One was tall and strong, whereas the other was small and weak. They had to pass through, first, a forest full of thieves and robbers and, second, another forest full of tigers and leopards. Singlehanded, the Tall Man fought the violent robbers and the ferocious animals while the Small Man merely looked on. Then the two companions had to pass through a long stretch of waterless desert, and, when halfway across it, the Small Man lay down on the sand and moaned, "Brother, I can go no farther. So leave me here to die." But the Tall Man pointed towards a clump of trees in the distance and said, "Brother, we must be nearly through the desert, because yonder are some trees. Perhaps they are plum trees, in which case we can quench our thirst by sucking the juice of their plums." Encouraged by these words, the Small Man continued the journey, only to fall down again later, overcome by the heat and thirst. The Tall Man picked up his exhausted companion and carried him in his arms until they reached the fringe of the desert and came to the trees. As the Tall Man had expected, they were plum trees. The Tall Man swiftly climbed one of the trees, but he found it difficult to pick the plums, as the branches were too thorny and brittle. As he paused aloft the plum tree, the Small Man shouted from below, "You lazy fellow, you cowardly fellow! You call your- self a man, yet you cannot even get a few plums!"