Poetry Sunday: To be of use by Marge Piercy

I've been thinking a lot over the past week about the people that help. The people who, as Marge Piercy says in her poem, "do what has to be done, again and again." We see them all around us, even - or maybe even especially - in chaotic times like these. When things seem to be falling apart around us, they are the ones who step up and accept responsibility for trying to make things better.

I especially like the sentiment expressed in the last stanza:
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.
The thing worth doing is to be of use and when we can accomplish that, our work has a shape that satisfies, that is clean and evident. 

To be of use

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

  1. In the spirit of this poem I will pay extra attention to doing the dishes this morning, and make sure that they are sparkling and clean! (Hopefully I do that every morning!)

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    Replies
    1. It's one of those jobs that "has to be done, again and again."

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  2. Why does this remind me of the man who did the talk about making your bed every morning? Perhaps because it is true. Without meaningful work, we are nothing, and we have so much that needs to be done to repair our world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very true, Alana. And so much of the work that we do to make things better is routine and repetitive - like making beds. But in the greater scheme of things, it has a shape that is "clean and evident."

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  3. My family is composed of people who are of use, who cannot be stopped from doing what has to be done. I feel blessed to come from such people.

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    Replies
    1. I have similar thoughts about my own family. This poem helped me to appreciate them even more than I had.

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