Analysis of "To Be of Use" by Marge Piercy

Updated on October 19, 2016

“To Be of Use” Text

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 stand in the line and haul in their places,
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.

Marge Piercy
Marge Piercy

Themes of the Poem

I enjoyed this poem for its message and imagery, but I frankly did not have it speak to my soul… but that’s okay, I can live with that. I also enjoy these types of people. I don’t think that these are the types of individuals that “I love the best”, but they have their merit. Productive, hard-working people have their own exuberance around them. There is a great degree of confidence gained by selfless service, sacrifice, and hard, honest work. True work yields a knowledge and appreciation of the simple things in life. People that follow the maxim “it’s better to wear out than to rust out” live fulfilling lives. They know what they want and where they are going. That sort of self-assurance is contagious. People feed off of that. People want and crave that sort reassuring poise. Sometimes, being around these people can be a little intimidating and unnerving, but the more that you submerge yourself in work and use, the more relaxed you feel around other similarly drive individuals.

Imagery

When the speaker references seals and their similitude to “half-submerged balls”, I conjure an extraordinarily vivid mental image of those seals bobbing up and down, just as beach balls do. It is an effective piece of sensory writing, and also serves to relate how one can become “a native of that element”. Seals are perfectly adapted for their element. They love to play in the water. They love to laze in the water. They love to do practically anything in the water. They are native of that element. Seals feel comfortable in aquatic environments. Biologically, they are superbly equipped to handle the different circumstances that water may pose. This is the same with hard working people. They feel comfortable in service situations. They can deal with other people effectively with love and charm. They only really feel at ease when they are working and moving and DOING SOMETHING.

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