Marge Piercy

(March 31, 1936 / Detroit, Michigan)

To Be Of Use

Poem by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Comments about To Be Of Use by Marge Piercy

  • Ratnakar Mandlik (4/29/2019 9:34:00 PM)

    " The work of the world is common as mud
    Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust" .
    Great poem worshiping work and toil to justify living and life.(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Katharine (2/17/2018 5:13:00 PM)

    The people you speak of are also workers among workers and the author recognizes art that is useful as more beautiful than art that is merely observed.(Report)Reply

    5 person liked.
    2 person did not like.
  • Sharon R.Chace (12/27/2017 3:38:00 PM)

    Hurtful to people who give their widow's mites of physical strength to society and to churches. Also seems to imply that the only art worth of being on the walls(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Caryl Brt (6/8/2016 10:42:00 AM)

    I remember the first time I read this poem in the 1970's!

    It went straight to my heart and became central to my approach to life!

    I feel as strong an emotional connection to it today as when I first discovered it! !

    Can you imagine giving such a gift as this to the world?(Report)Reply

    7 person liked.
    3 person did not like.
  • Colleen Courtney (5/18/2014 7:14:00 PM)

    Such a perfect poem for the times of today. It's so much better to admire a hard physical worker wh may work for peanuts than one who sits high up and passes the buck while raking in millions.
    A wonderful write!(Report)Reply

    10 person liked.
    6 person did not like.
  • Nancy Nzobigeza (1/3/2012 2:44:00 PM)

    Love it! ! girl power!(Report)Reply

    14 person liked.
    24 person did not like.
  • Leslie Audes (2/17/2010 9:23:00 PM)

    This poem feels more relevant to me now than ever before. The perfect manifesto for social change! gotta love it(Report)Reply

    19 person liked.
    15 person did not like.
  • Erhard Hans Josef Lang (7/19/2006 10:19:00 PM)

    Wonderfully expressed... that's what I always wanted to say, but never found the right words for!(Report)Reply

    20 person liked.
    14 person did not like.
Read all 8 comments »

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Read poems about / on: work, people, water, food, fire, world, swimming

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003