Marge Piercy

(March 31, 1936 / Detroit, Michigan)

A Work of Artifice

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003
# 375 poem on top 500 Poems

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Comments about this poem (A Work of Artifice by Marge Piercy )

  • Rookie - 37 Points Colleen Courtney (5/18/2014 1:27:00 PM)

    I tend to agree with Martin's interpretation of this piece. I find this poem wonderfully powerful! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 4 Points Martin O'Neill (2/22/2012 7:41:00 AM)

    This to me is a cry against the human need to control, dominate and frequently distort that which is beautiful in it's natural state already.
    Fashion is simply that tendency taken to a different level. Binding feet to conform with some twisted idea of beauty.
    This to me is an angry poem of passion. I think it is excellent. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Anonymous Writer (10/29/2009 6:25:00 PM)

    Taylor Callis: If you would've read Marge Piercy's biography, you would've known that Marge Piercy was born in 1938. Did she really write this poem as an eight year old little girl who obviously knew nothing about the Depression going on? A Work of Artifice was a poem published in Marge's The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme in 1999. She was writing the poem refering to women's rights in the 1960's and that time period. An artifice by the way is -A Clever of Artsy Skill. Reread the poem. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Taylor Callis (9/18/2009 9:22:00 AM)

    I'd like to comment on what Glen Shorts said. Apparently Glen thinks that this poem is advocating the shrinking and belittling actions of the gardener, but lets explore this a bit why don't we? First of all, lets look at the title. A work of Artifice. Artifice almost literally means a social stupidity. So the title of this poem means 'A Work of Social Stupidity'. Now, lets look at who wrote the poem and when. A woman wrote this poem in the 1930's, when women were supposed to stay at home and clean and have kids. However, we know today that women have just as much potential as men do. So if one wants to look at the metaphors in the poem, the tree growing 80 feet tall is the potential of a woman, but society then was whittling them down and making them only 9' tall, less than 1% of their potential. The writer is not talking about literal height, she is comparing height to potential. The general tone of the poem is that the writer is pretty pissed off at what women are subjected to during this time period. Any more points you would like to make? Also...just throwing this out there...I'm a football player, and I'm not some couch potato that sits around all day. Also, there is a reason our culture is the way it is, and that is because that is how we want it. You may deny that you have inert aggressive leanings, but you would be lying. Marge Piercy obviously does. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Glen Shorts (2/2/2007 1:23:00 PM)

    Congrats on the Slate pub: actually you might have something useful hear - not the inhumanity thing, but a way to save humanity. As I have advocated for more than 30 years, we should be shrinking homo sapiens so our impact on the world is less. Lets try for an average height of 3' and 40 pounds by 2100 and then take it from their to 6'

    I can think of nothing so repulsive and overindulgent that a obese couch potato sheering 350# lard ass football players in a game that emulates our culture.

    Keep up the good work. go grrl ! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Bobbie Goggins (10/22/2005 8:47:00 AM)

    I love this.
    Would like more insight on 'the hands you love to touch.'
    The bonzai tree's hands? The woman's? Both?
    Of course. (Report) Reply

    Rookie - 0 Points Sara Baker (9/3/2014 7:16:00 AM)

    I think it's an allusion to a long-running commercial for a hand lotion- the theme statement was for the hands you love to touch and it pictured a woman whose goal, once she was done washing the dishes, was to be attractive to her man.

Read all 6 comments »

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