This is a rather short piece that uses simple language and metaphors to describe the profound satisfaction that can come from performing a task that is “worth” performing. What Piercy speaks of, jumping “…into work head first, without dallying in the shallows”, is a description of the act of giving oneself wholly to the performance of a task. The people who do this, in the author’s eyes, seem to “…swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight”, and to “…become natives of that element…”. Essentially, the people who she sees giving their all are the people she sees consistently succeed at what they do.
Her observations are not without merit. Anyone can attest to having been “in the zone” at multiple points in their lives while performing any given activity, be it homework, a job, or writing a paper. It is at these times that people tend to do their best work. Piercy rightly observes that a primary factor of an individual’s success is the absence of any level of distraction, people who “…submerge in the task…”. Piercy also notes the tendency of successful individuals to be proactive. She uses a metaphor to liken these people to oxen(powerful creatures in their own right) who “…harness themselves…” to their heavy carts, and do what needs to be done repeatedly.
I agree wholeheartedly with Piercy’s observations, and would be willing to argue that the claim her poem indirectly puts forth is that worthwhile work and successful people are codependent on one another. One cannot exist without the other, and each is a product of the other. Successful people do not just happen; they are defined as successful by what they accomplish, the worthwhile work they do. Yet, as Piercy notes, we as people yearn for “..work that is real.”. How is work that is real or worthwhile decided? The fact is, it is a subjective choice. From the largest to the smallest task, there are as many opportunities for worthwhile work as there are people in the world, and every person who does something worthwhile has a chance at success.