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The poem “The Secretary Chant,” by Marge Piercy, holds many characteristics that are meant to pull the reader in. As with any poem, the words mean more than they appear to. Each line is written with a purpose. Every word is there for a reason; otherwise, the poem would not be the same.
“My hips are a desk.” The first line sets the tone for the whole poem. Piercy starts by personifying a desk as her hips. This metaphor is crucial to the rest of the poem. When you think of a desk, what is it that you think of? Often it is a station for working. It is the place where all supplies are laid out, and all work is being done. She says that her hips are a desk because they are a foundation for her body. The poem is filled with metaphors where body parts are compared to office supplies. The poem means to show a transformation from a woman to a walking work machine. She feels as though she does everything, she is the foundation of all workers in the perceived office setting.
“From my ears hang chains of paper clips. Rubber bands form my hair.” These two lines have multiple meanings. An obvious meaning for these phrases is that she is the place where everyone goes to obtain their office supplies. But there is a deeper meaning to these sentences too. What do paper clips and rubber bands do? They are made to hold things together. By saying that she is made of these two objects implies that a secretary is the glue that holds the whole office together. Without her, the rest of the office would simply scatter like unclipped papers.
There are four onomatopoeias in this poem: buzz, click, zing, and tinkle. These words are very important to the poem. With these words, Piercy is able to add to the effect that she creates with the personification of other office supplies. These words are grouped in pairs in the seventh and fourteenth lines of the poem. The placements of the words alone create a certain feeling. It is as if the sounds are interrupting the poem, conveying a more mechanical feel to it.
Piercy goes on to describe her head in two different ways. The first is a comparison to a badly organized file. She says so because a secretary has many different things to keep track of. Piercy then writes, “My head is a switchboard where crossed lines crackle.” A secretary is most likely to have more than one person that she has to keep organized. When she says that crossed lines crackle, she indicates that she may often confuse certain information.
After the second set of onomatopoeias, Piercy goes on, “Swollen, heavy, rectangular I am about to be delivered of a baby Xerox machine.” This is included in the poem to add to the depressing feel of insignificance. What Piercy meant by this is how she feels that women may never amount to anything more than a secretary. She says that she is delivering a Xerox machine, meaning that her offspring is going to end up doing exactly what she does. Also, she uses the term Xerox because all a Xerox machine was used for was making copies. This is ironic because she is making an exact copy of herself, just as a Xerox machine would do.
The overall meaning of this poem can be found in the last line, “File me under W because I wonce was a woman.” It was written to show the reader a transformation that women in the workplace are going through. Piercy wrote this to express her feelings. She feels as though her job has overtaken her existence as a person. Back in 1973, when she wrote this poem, women were still struggling for equality. The ending phrase helps bring the message that workplaces were still dominated by men, and she herself ended up not being seen as a woman.
The poem has both a literal meaning and an underlying message. Piercy feels as though women are not seen as equal in the workplace, and she uses metaphors and personification to help bring her points across. The onomatopoeias break up the body of the poem and the effect makes the poem seem even quite gloomy.
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