An Essay on Marge Piercy poem ‘To be of use’

This is an essay I have written based on the poem by Marge Piercy ‘To be of Use’. These are my interpretations of her poem and I hope you would like it.

Marge Piercy Biography from Wikipedia- Marge Piercy (born March 31, 1936) is an American poetnovelist, and social activist. Her work includes Woman on the Edge of TimeHe, She and It, which won the 1993 Arthur C. Clarke Award; and Gone to Soldiers, a New York Times Best Seller[1] and a sweeping historical novel set during World War II.


1st Stanza

Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use” starts with urgency, and also an affinity towards someone who has clarity of thoughts and takes decisions at any given instance. It also draws a defining line between those who squander time thinking for too long to those who are quick decision makers and do not have inhibitions to delve deeper into any work.

The term, ‘sure strokes’, indicate the willingness to cut through challenges with confidence. They can acclimatize to a new environment as aquatic species do and make it their habitat without hassles.

‘Half-submerged’ balls could be those opportunities which have to be retrieved from unsettled waters and be comfortable around them in time to come.

It’s a paean about hard-work and dedication. The metaphor of seals shows such dexterity and the ability to balance life in a sea of uncertainties’. It’s about a challenging dream surrounded by unexpected elements; reflecting confidence and determined efforts to stay afloat to prove the prying eyes from the shores (who can, at the best, be critical).

It is not clear if the narrator is particularly fond of hard-work or has much love and respect for those who are doing it throughout their life without complaining. The narrator could be an observer and wishes to paint an imagery of these brave people with their courage and determination.

2nd Stanza

This stanza is also about the determined word and toiling efforts, but more constrained and in a conformed environment. The lines express the enthusiasm of hard-work that’s repetitive in manner, which requires patience. It does have an allusion to the ‘Legend of Sisyphus’. This also need not have a negative connotation; as such determination can energize other souls to join the effort to achieve their dreams through hard work.

Like the valour of soldiers, these field marshals (farmers) who are nothing but magicians who feed people, always submerged in the chores to carefully select the best harvest to create a healthy future. They are dedicatedly nurturing the forces of future that will ensure safe and peaceful environment.

3rd Stanza

Mud that flows down-hill and rides the water to deluge the low lying barren lands with deposits of magical silt is nature’s benevolence. It is difficult to walk through slush (only the surefooted can) and dexterous hands can skilful utilize the same mud for building and abode and also to plant bountiful harvest to feed the people of an entire valley; which is a noble work done collectively. The offerings of a sacred land will fill the ‘Hopi vessels’ brings out a rich imagery of tradition. It brings celebrations after hard work, which is enjoyed by the entire community. Aged wine poured in ancient vessels (Greek amphoras) – one can infer the traditions of past and how they are still relevant at present times, especially during auspicious moments of celebrations for an entire tribe, after hard-work and plentiful harvest.


Water has a natural flow, and throughout history, they had to be tamed and as their course change over time, due to natural phenomenon. The river bodies have always sustained life and along with hard work in tandem to harness the beauty of, both natural and physical camaraderie. The people also have to be aware of the impending dangers of floods and displacement and have the will to rebuild life from natural devastations.

Water is a recurring image in this poem as it sustains life’s balance.

Hard-work may be intimidating, but it has always had always brought unexpected results which have allowed generations to move ahead on this journey across Earth. These verses act as a mantra to initiate everyone to the Earth element and how to make this journey worthwhile. Even the title of the poem suggests, how ‘to be of use’ and make a credible impact on the people of society. That is only possible with determination, perseverance, and satisfaction with most difficult work. The celebrations will be a part of life after hard day’s work and the wine will taste sweeter and put the soul to sleep.

~Amitav Chowdhury

Note- (All the external links provided in this blog are for references and I kept it that way so readers can navigate freely to read about her work and achievements. The link to ( has been used to redirect her poem that is displayed on that site for reference to ‘Marge Piercy poem ‘To be of use‘ and not for any intentional infringement of copyright.)

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