Born in Detroit, Michigan, in the midst of the Great Depression, Marge Piercy (b. 1936) is an American poet and novelist, perhaps most famous for her New York Times best-selling novel Gone to Soldiers (1988). The first in her family to attend college, Piercy published her first book of poems in 1968. Since then, she has authored 15 novels, a play, and 17 volumes of poetry. In this poem, first published in a volume of the same name in 1973, Piercy suggests how people work is as important as what they do.
Examine the images the poem uses to describe admirable ways of working: jumping into work head first; harnessing oneself, an ox to a heavy cart; submerging oneself in the task. What idea of working do these images convey? What does Piercy mean by “real work”? Is it true that everyone wants it? What is the meaning of the poem’s title? Do you aspire “to be of use”?