Analysis of A Work of Artifice

A Work Of Artifice By Marge Piercy

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot

could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

The Four Question Format-

  1. What is going on in the poem on a literal level?

The poem starts off by showing a bonsai tree in a beautiful pot. Piercy writes that the tree could have grown very tall, until the gardener comes. Trimming the tree to exactly nine inches is a Japanese tradition. Everyday the gardener trims the branches of the tree. Then Piercy starts to take the poem into a whole new level of poetic language to describe the tree. “Small and Cozy” and “domestic and weak.” She is literally describing the tree, but using the tree as a metaphor, she is really describing something else.

2. What is the poem really about?

Piercy has written the poem so that it does not let you know the true meaning of the poem until the end. She uses extended metaphor throughout the entire poem to describe the oppression of women. The Bonsai tree represents a woman and the gardener who symbolizes men. Piercy shows that the gardener represents men because she writes the “He” clips the branches. When Piercy says “Every day as he/
whittles back the branches” (Line 9-10) and “could have grown eighty feet tall” (line 3) She is explaining that the gardener does not let the tree (woman) reach its full potential in life. He continually keeps cutting her down and not letting her grow. By using the gardener to represent man, and the tree to represent women, Piercy is showing the classic ”male dominance” idea. In the poem in line 11 says “the gardener croons” the rest of the poem is the man talking down to the women, telling her that she is lucky to have him, and to have this world that she lives in. He talks down to her by saying she is lucky to have a dominant male to care for her when she is “domestic and weak” (line 14) It is really worth it? Piercy asks. In this poem she is explaining that because of the idea of “male dominance” women are never really happy. Even if they have a great life and things surrounding them, they are never really happy if they are constantly held back in life.

3. How does the poet arrive at meaning- both literal and thematic- through the uses of poetic languge?

The entire poem is an extended metaphor that describes how women are looked down upon by men. Every line in the poem is describes the common theme of “male dominance.” Piercy uses imagery in the first ten lines to describe the relationship between the bonsai tree and the gardener, (The man and the woman.) The imagery of the gardener whittling the tree (what a great verb!!) is very strong. It is easy to see the tree being perfectly shaped.  The bonsai tree is a symbol for the woman. It is beautiful, but is remains submissive to the gardener. The gardener symbolizes men. The gardener does not let the bonsai tree (the woman) grow and live up to its full potential. The part of the poem that offers the most figurative language is lines 12-24. In lines 20 -24, Piercy brings in the symbolism of chinese women. A student in his literature class writes “She mentions “the bound feet” which is a reference to the brutal practice of foot binding in China,” and he also says “Piercy continues to address the effects of the “spiritual binding” by saying how the tree has a “crippled brain” and that its growth is dwarfed.” Piercy brings is these ways that Chinese women were forced into submission by men and how bad they were treated in their relationship. Piercy uses this strong imagery to demostrate the tourture that these women go through. It is interesting how Marge ties in this Chinese history. It sure brings stronger imagery and stronger language to her poetry. It also contributes to the tone of her poem. It adds a sense of sympathy for the woman in the poem. Her feminist views shine through this poem through the use of poetic language.

4. What does the text of the poem seem to reveal about the poet?

This poem really relates to Marge Piercy’s life. Marge’s first husband was a man that could not let go of the idea of male dominance in the relationship. He did not take her writing seriously and thought of her as “domestic and weak” (line 14). This was a big deal to Piercy because she has strong feminist views and can’t stand that her husband would look down upon her. Marge did not agree with the gender roles that society made. Throughout her poetry she makes it evident that she is against traditional gender roles and shows her feminist views in her poems. It is very possible that her first marriage could have been the inspiration for this poem.

Scholarly Sources:

6 Responses to “Analysis of A Work of Artifice”

  1.   bridgettemeng5 Says:

    Terri your blog is very nice! I especially like your choice of header by using that cute picture of a dog! Is that your dog? Anyways, i really enjoyed your analysis of your poems and i can tell you put a lot of thought into the questions and the true depth of the poems. I also noticed that your poet is a native Michigander and my poet Jane Kenyon is one as well :) Great work Terri!

  2.   Jane Hazle Says:

    OK, be careful about web sources. Your link to an site seems quality since it leads us to a professor’s home page, but the other link you provide leads us to a student’s essay submitted to the site for feedback–not an acceptable scholarly source. Your own commentary on the poem is good.

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