since nowhere else in the poem are there any further references to plant life or the ancient 3apanesetechni$ue of cultivating miniature trees or shrubsthrough dwarfing by selective pruning !ome mighteven argue that +Origami is the better title choice,for at least the persona"s act of folding ob.ects is a bit analogous to the 3apanese art of paper folding tomake complicated shapes *ut this reader will proveat the end of this essay that +*onsai is the mostappropriate title for the poem, something that is not$uite obvious to most people after their perfunctoryappraisal of this often misread literary masterpiece4owever, despite the false lead, even acursory perusal of the poem reveals to the sensitiveand sensible reader that +*onsai is about love, if only because the four-letter word is mentioned in allfour stan'as In the first stan'a, the persona declaresthat she folds everything that she loves and keepsthem hidden in secret places5
“a box, Or a slit in ahollo! "ost, Or in my shoe.# What then are thethin$s she %onsiders im"erative enou$h to &ee"?
At first glance, the catalogue of her belovedob.ects in the second stan'a appears to be disparate,unrelated, almost random, if not completelyaleatory *ut since a literary sorceress like &iemposeldom commits mistakes in con.uring appropriateimages, then there must a be reason for singling outthese particular items and not others &he moreimportant $uery therefore is this5 What do +!on"snote or #ad"s one gaudy tie,6 Aroto
“'very ob(e%t tou%hed by the loved bein$)sbody be%omes "art of that body, and the sub(e%t ea$erly atta%hes himself to it.#
If we are to assume that the speaking voiceof +*onsai closely resembles the poet"s own, thenthe first three ob.ects must represent members of her immediate family5 son %aldon9 husbanddilberto 1It is a well-known fact among writingfellows and panelists of the !illiman Writers"Workshop that dith fondly called the late fictionistand literary critic +#ad, while being addressed byher husband as +%om, which is a common practiceamong (ilipino couples29 and daughter :owena1;nknown to many, the current 0rogramAdministrator of the Iowa Writers" Workshop is aformer winner of the %iss <egros Oriental beautycontest sometime in the =>8s, another indicator of the (ilipino flavor of the poem, since the0hilippines is a pageant-obsessed &hird Worldcountry2 &he referents of the last two items are morecovert and thereby more difficult to decipher At best, we can only speculate on the persons and6or events that make the two things significant5 blueIndian shawl 1dith"s engagement date withdilberto, her first winter in Iowa, her last autumnin #enver?29 money bill 14er initial salary from!illiman ;niversity, cash pri'e from the #on @arlos0alanca %emorial Awards for /iterature?2In the long run though the indeterminacy of the allusions does not really matter, for theopa$ueness of the symbols leads not to genericobscurity and obfuscation, but to personalmythology and mystery 0erhaps part of the poem"smessage is that the things a person considersmemorable and therefore valuable most other people might think of as debris, detritus or dirt1<ote that the adverb +even modifying +money bill is used to indicate something unexpected or unusual, which in the context of the poem seems tosuggest that a money bill is not a conventionalob.ect to collect and treasure even by the mostsentimental of persons2 !uffice it to say that all fiveob.ects, which are outwardly ordinary andnondescript, ac$uire associative significations because they serve for the poetic persona asconduits of recall, like mementoes, souvenirs andkeepsakesInterestingly, the second stan'a commenceswith what appears to be a rhetorical $uestion 1+Allthat I love?2, which the persona answers with a paradox5 +Why, yes, but for the moment ---6 And for all time, both &he significance of these seeminglyself- contradictory lines will be discussed towardsthe end of this essay, but for now this reader willfocus on the fact that the persona pauses tocontemplate on the germane issue of the scope of her love, before she proceeds to enumerate her loved ones" memorabilia that she has decided tovouchsafe /ove for the female persona therefore isa conscious choice, a cognitive act not only anaffective one, a motif that recurs in various degreesin most of her other love poems
“A Work of Artifice,” by the American poet Marge Piercy, is a small poem about a large subject. The poem describes how a bonsai tree, which in nature has the potential to grow to an enormous height, is instead carefully pruned so that it becomes something miniature—a mere, tiny glimpse of its potential self. Some bonsai trees, for instance, are actually miniature versions of giant redwoods, and it is clearly the latter kind of tree that the speaker has in mind when she mentions a tree that “could have grown eighty feet tall” (3). Rather than celebrating the careful “artifice” involved in producing a finely crafted tiny tree (as one might have expected at first), the poem laments the ways in which the potential of people in general—and of women in particular—can be stifled by the ways they are raised.
The satirical tone of the poem is already implied by its title: “A Work of Artifice” (emphasis added). If Piercy had titled the poem “A Work of Art,” the tone would have been much more unambiguously positive. By using the word “artifice,” however, she already begins to imply something deceptive, crafty, subtle, and cunning. Whereas we normally consider bonsai trees admirable, impressive examples of human skill, this poem finally suggests that miniaturization involves diminution and distortion: something that might have been grand and unfettered is turned into something neatly shaped and carefully controlled, but also puny. This process, the poem suggests, more often happens to humans than to trees.
The first four lines of the poem celebrate the latent potential of the tree, which might have grown to an enormous height. But then line 5 appears and reminds us that the giant tree would probably someday have been “split by lightning.” This reminder is crucial, because it prevents the poem from seeming naïve, sentimental, and romantic. A bonsai tree can be carefully protected from harm and may even live far longer than a tree exposed to the dangers of nature, of which lightning is only one. Yet the poem implies that existence in nature, and the development of one’s natural potential, are both more valuable than a life that is safe, controlled, and limited. Line 5 is crucial because it acknowledges the potential dangers of a life without limits, but the poem accepts and even welcomes those dangers as the risks inherent in a life of freedom.
Later the poem suggests that the gardener not only limits the freedom of the tree he prunes but that he also insists (falsely) that it is the tree’s “nature / to be small and cozy” (12-13). Is the gardener a deliberate liar, or is he merely deceiving himself? In either case, he is not expressing the truth: the “nature” of the tree is in fact to be anything but “small.” The gardener takes pride in shaping the tree to his own purposes, imposing his own will on it so that it conforms to his wishes. Of course, the fact that the gardener is...
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