A Work of Artifice Summary

ICSE Class 9 English Poem A Work of Artifice Summary, Line by Line Explanation, Theme, Poetic Devices along with difficult word meanings from Treasure Chest Book


A Work of Artifice – Are you looking for Theme, Summary and Poem Explanation for ICSE Class 9 English Poem A Work of Artifice from Treasure Chest (A Collection of ICSE Poems and Short Stories) book. Get Summary, Theme, Explantion, Poetic Devices along with difficult word meanings.


A Work of Artifice ICSE Class 9 English 

By Marge Piercy




Introduction to A Work of Artifice

The poem “A Work of Artifice” was written in 1970. It is one of the early works of the American poet, Marge Piercy. It was published in her collection called ‘The Art of Blessing the Day’. 

The poem describes how a tree, which has the potential to grow to an enormous height by nature, is carefully pruned so that it becomes a bonsai, a miniature- a mere, tiny version of its potential self. 


A Work of Artifice Summary


At a Glance

  • The small bonsai could have been a tall tree if it had not been pruned by the gardener and kept in an attractive pot.
  • The gardener regularly trims its branches to ensure its safety in a pot. 
  • From the beginning, living creatures need to be pruned and kept beautiful.
  • Like a bonsai tree, the growth of a woman is restricted by the norms of patriarchy. 


Detailed Summary of A Work of Artifice

“A Work of Artifice” by Marge Piercy uses the image of a bonsai tree to critique societal pressures that restrict and control individuals, particularly women.

The poem opens with a striking contrast: a bonsai whose growth is restricted to a beautiful pot, versus its natural potential to reach a great height. This immediately sets the stage for the poem’s central theme – the limitations placed on individuals by societal expectations.

The gardener’s careful pruning symbolizes the controlling forces that shape people’s lives. The gardener tells the tree that its “nature” is to be “small and cozy.” This manipulation reflects how societal expectations can distort our perception of ourselves and our potential. The poem further criticizes these limitations through references to societal practices that restrict women, like “bound feet” and “crippled brain.”  The pressure placed on women to conform to a certain standard of beauty is also highlighted, suggesting a focus on appearance over a woman’s full potential.  


Poem Explanation

bonsai tree

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.



Word Meaning:
Artifice : clever trick
Bonsai –  A miniature tree grown in a container, carefully shaped and pruned to maintain its small size.
Split : tear /break apart
Lightning- a powerful electrical discharge in the atmosphere


The miniature tree is planted in an attractive pot. The tree could have grown upto eight-feet-tall if it had been planted in nature (along a mountainside). The full grown tree would have been so strong that it could only be damaged by lightning. 


But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,

Word Meaning:
Pruned – cut off to make something smaller
Whittles – reduce something in size, amount, or extent by a gradual series of steps.
Croons – Sings in a soft, low voice.

But instead of letting the tree grow tall as per its nature, a gardener carefully trims the plant so that the height of the plant is about nine inches only. Everyday, while trimming the branches of the tree, the gardener sings softly.

It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.

Word Meaning:
Cozy – comfortable

The gardener sings that nature has made the tree small and weak so that it can be grown indoors and that the tree is lucky and fortunate to have a pot in which it can grow. 

With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:

Word Meaning:
Dwarf – stunt

Restrictions must be imposed on living beings in their early stages to stop them from growing to their full potential.

This stanza broadens the poem’s metaphor beyond just the bonsai tree. It suggests that the act of restricting and controlling growth is applied widely to living things, not just plants. This could refer to humans or animals trained for specific purposes or any living being on this planet. 

the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch. 

Word Meaning:
Bound – held together
Crippled brain – suggestive of stunted mental growth
Curlers – a kind of roller to make hair curly

Explanation:Bound feet

Like a tree, a woman from a very young age is kept in control. Here, the poet gives examples of how their growth is hampered by binding their feet, brainwashing them and putting their hair in curlers. 


In the last line, the poet likely scolds the gardener for destroying what he loves to touch.

Trivia – “Bound feet” is a historical reference to a practice in China where young girls’ feet were bound to restrict their growth.


Title Analysis of the Poem A Work of Artifice

Artifice is something created by skill, often in a way that deceives or misrepresents something else. The poem uses the bonsai tree as a metaphor for individuals who are shaped and controlled by societal expectations. This shaping process is an artifice because it creates a restricted, unnatural version of what the individual could be. The gardener’s act of pruning and the soothing words are a form of artifice, creating an illusion of care while actually limiting the tree’s potential.

Hence, the title of the poem “A Work of Artifice” by American poet Marge Piercy is quite apt. 


Themes of  A Work of Artifice


Suppression of Women

The poem was composed at the height of the American Feminist movement in the 1970. The bonsai tree in the poem is a potent symbol and represents suppression of women. The poem opens with what could be the true potential of a tree-as a unwieldy eighty-feet-tall tree on a mountainside that could be damaged only by lightning’. But women are likely to have a ‘pot’ and grow to a height of a mere nine inches. 

The poem is truly about how women are confined into their predetermined domestic role. It is not just the size of the tree that the gardener trims, but its natural habitat as well. A small bonsai tree in an attractive pot encourages the belief that women are desirable when they are pretty, delicate and domestic. This conditioning begins very early, by their feet being bound, thoughts being manipulated and hair in curlers. It represents the oppression of women, their inability to grow and how society has kept them tied to customs preventing them from achieving their full potential. 


Manipulation and Control

The gardener’s act of carefully pruning the tree represents the manipulative ways in which society shapes and controls individuals. The gardener justifies these limitations as beneficial, creating a false narrative about the tree’s nature.

The very concept of a bonsai tree is an example of manipulating nature to create a desired aesthetic. This parallels the way women are pressured to conform to unrealistic beauty standards.


Setting of the Poem  A Work of Artifice

The setting of “A Work of Artifice” is not explicitly described in terms of location or time period. However, it’s most likely an indoor location. The focus isn’t on the setting, but on the tension between the confined space where the bonsai is forced to exist and the vastness of what it could have been along a mountainside. 


Narration Style of  A Work of Artifice

The poem is written in third person but the last two lines are in second person. 


Form and Structure 

The poem is of one stanza consisting 24 lines. Each line is short in length. By using short and simple lines, the poet emphasizes the confinement of both, the bonsai tree and women. 


Rhyme Scheme

The poem is in free verse and has no specific rhyme scheme. 


Poetic Devices in  A Work of Artifice


A metaphor is a figure of speech that is used to make a comparison without using words “like” and “as”. 

A bonsai tree is a metaphor for women, who face inequality, discrimination and oppression. The poet uses this to express that women have vast potential to grow and accomplish large things but fail to do so as a result of the manipulations and suppression. 



A figure of speech in which abstract ideas are invested with personality, and both inanimate and abstract ideas are endowed with the attributes of living beings. The poet gives human attributes to the bonsai by using words such as ” “brain”, and “hair”.



Apostrophe is a figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses someone (or something) that is not present or cannot respond in reality. The poet makes use of an apostrophe as the gardener addresses both women and the tree. By doing so, Piercy emphasises the way society directly or indirectly prevents women from reaching their full potential.  She uses the lines:

“the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.”



Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities.


  • Bonsai tree: Represents the individual restricted by societal expectations.
  • Gardener: Represents societal forces that control and shape individuals.
  • Pot: Represents the limitations placed on the individual’s potential.
  • Bound feet, crippled brain, hair in curlers: These symbolize specific societal practices that restrict individual growth, particularly for women.



The gardener’s words, “It is your nature to be small and cozy…how lucky, little tree,” are laced with irony. He justifies the limitations as the tree’s natural state, while the reader understands it’s an imposed condition.



The allusions i.e., the reference to other works or culture, to allude to the restrictions imposed on women to curb their growth and potential.

bound feet” in an allusion to the pre-revolutionary Chinese practice of binding women’s feet as small feet were considered as a symbol of beauty.


Related Link : ICSE Class 9 English Language and Literature Syllabus 2024-25


Also See  : 

ICSE Class 9 English Summary


ICSE Class 9 English Important Question Answers