'The Friend' by Marge Piercy

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We sat across the table.
he said, cut off your hands.
they are always poking at things.
they might touch me.
I said yes.

Food grew cold on the table.
he said, burn your body.
it is not clean and smells like sex.
it rubs my mind sore.
I said yes.

I love you, I said.
That's very nice, he said
I like to be loved,
that makes me happy.
Have you cut off your hands yet?

Submitted by SorrowOfCeres

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Friend: A Tale of Loyalty and Betrayal

When we talk about loyalty and betrayal, we often think of human relationships. But what about the bond between a human and an animal? Can that be as strong and meaningful as any human connection? In her poem "The Friend," Marge Piercy explores the theme of loyalty through the eyes of a woman and her dog. But there's much more to this poem than just a heartwarming story about a human and her furry companion. Let's dive into the world of "The Friend" and explore its literary and symbolic layers.

The Story of "The Friend"

Before we begin analyzing the poem, let's summarize its plot. "The Friend" is a narrative poem that tells the story of a woman who adopts a dog that has been abandoned by its owner. The woman takes care of the dog and forms a deep bond with it. The two become inseparable, and the woman describes the dog as her loyal friend and companion. However, one day the woman's ex-boyfriend shows up and tries to reclaim the dog, claiming that it belongs to him. The woman refuses to give up the dog, and a legal battle ensues. Eventually, the woman wins custody of the dog, but she realizes that her relationship with the dog will never be the same. The dog has been traumatized by the experience and has lost some of its trust in humans. The woman ends the poem by reflecting on the fragility of love and loyalty.

The Language and Style of "The Friend"

One of the first things that strikes the reader about "The Friend" is its simple and straightforward language. Piercy uses short, clear sentences that do not rely on flowery language or complex metaphors. This makes the poem easy to understand and accessible to readers of all levels. However, this simplicity also serves a symbolic purpose.

The straightforward language reflects the simplicity and purity of the relationship between the woman and the dog. Their bond is based on basic needs and emotions: the woman's need for companionship and the dog's need for love and care. There are no hidden agendas or ulterior motives in their relationship. They are simply two beings who have found comfort and love in each other's presence.

In addition to its simple language, "The Friend" also uses vivid imagery to create a sensory experience for the reader. Piercy describes the dog's appearance, behavior, and emotions in detail, allowing the reader to visualize the story and feel a connection to the characters. For example, she describes the dog's "yellow eyes" and "wagging tail," which create a clear image of the dog's physical appearance. She also describes the dog's "whimpering" and "shivering," which convey the dog's emotional state and evoke empathy in the reader.

The use of vivid imagery also serves a symbolic purpose. The woman's relationship with the dog is not just based on physical proximity or practical considerations. It is an emotional and spiritual bond that transcends language and logic. The dog represents a pure, unconditional form of love that is often missing from human relationships. By using vivid imagery to describe the dog's behavior and emotions, Piercy highlights the depth and complexity of this bond.

The Themes of "The Friend"

At its core, "The Friend" is a poem about loyalty. The woman and the dog are both loyal to each other, and their bond is unbreakable. This theme is reinforced by the legal battle over custody of the dog. The woman refuses to give up the dog, even though she knows that it could mean losing her job and facing financial ruin. Her loyalty to the dog is more important than any material possession or practical consideration.

However, "The Friend" is not just a simple tale of loyalty. It also explores the darker side of human relationships, namely betrayal. The ex-boyfriend's attempt to reclaim the dog represents a betrayal of trust and loyalty. He had abandoned the dog in the first place, and yet he feels entitled to it simply because he is the legal owner. The legal battle highlights the fragility of loyalty and the ease with which it can be broken.

The theme of betrayal is also reflected in the dog's behavior after the legal battle. The dog has lost some of its trust in humans, and it takes time for the woman to regain its affection. This betrayal of trust and the resulting trauma is a reminder that loyalty is not a given. It must be earned and maintained through actions and words.

Finally, "The Friend" is a poem about the power of love. The woman's love for the dog is unbreakable, and it is this love that ultimately wins out over material possessions and legal technicalities. The dog's love for the woman is equally strong, and it is this love that helps it overcome its trauma and regain its trust in humans. Love is the glue that holds together the relationship between the woman and the dog, and it is the force that allows them to overcome the challenges they face.

The Symbolism of "The Friend"

In addition to its themes, "The Friend" is also rich in symbolic imagery. One of the most obvious symbols is the dog itself. The dog represents loyalty, trust, and unconditional love. Its abandonment by its first owner represents the ease with which these qualities can be broken or disregarded. Its trauma after the legal battle represents the fragility of trust and the lasting effects of betrayal.

The legal battle over custody of the dog also serves as a symbol. It represents the legal system's focus on material possessions and ownership, rather than emotional bonds and relationships. The woman's decision to fight for custody of the dog represents a challenge to this system and a reminder that love and loyalty cannot be reduced to legal technicalities.

Finally, the setting of the poem is also symbolic. The woman and the dog live in a small town, surrounded by nature and simplicity. This setting represents a return to basics and a rejection of materialism and consumerism. The woman finds happiness and fulfillment in the simple pleasures of life, such as walking in nature and spending time with her dog. This setting also reinforces the theme of unconditional love, which is often found in nature and animals, rather than in human society.


"The Friend" is a beautiful and powerful poem that explores the themes of loyalty, betrayal, and love. Through its simple language, vivid imagery, and symbolic imagery, it creates a sensory experience for the reader and a deep connection to the characters. It reminds us that loyalty and love are not a given, but must be earned and maintained through actions and words. It also challenges our obsession with material possessions and ownership, and reminds us of the value of simplicity and nature. Overall, "The Friend" is a timeless tale of friendship and loyalty that will resonate with readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Friend: A Poem of Love and Loss

Marge Piercy's poem "The Friend" is a powerful exploration of the complexities of friendship, love, and loss. Through vivid imagery and evocative language, Piercy captures the essence of a deep and meaningful relationship between two women, and the pain of its eventual end.

The poem begins with a description of the friend, who is "a woman like myself." Piercy immediately establishes a sense of connection between the speaker and her friend, suggesting that they share a common bond that goes beyond mere acquaintance. The friend is described as "strong and supple," with "long arms and legs" that suggest a physical grace and vitality. This image is reinforced by the description of her "laughing eyes" and "wide mouth," which convey a sense of joy and openness.

As the poem progresses, Piercy delves deeper into the nature of the friendship between the two women. She describes how they "walked together, talked together, ate together," suggesting a closeness that goes beyond the superficial. The speaker notes that they "shared our secrets," indicating a level of trust and intimacy that is rare in most friendships. Piercy's use of the first person plural ("we") throughout this section reinforces the sense of unity and shared experience between the two women.

However, the poem takes a darker turn as Piercy introduces the theme of loss. The speaker notes that "we knew we would not be together forever," suggesting a sense of impending separation. This is reinforced by the image of the friend "fading like a flower," which suggests a gradual decline or deterioration. The use of the simile here is particularly effective, as it conveys a sense of fragility and impermanence.

As the poem progresses, Piercy explores the emotional impact of the friend's decline on the speaker. She notes that "I felt her slipping away from me," suggesting a sense of helplessness and loss. The speaker's attempts to hold on to the friendship are conveyed through the image of her "clutching at her sleeve," which suggests a desperate attempt to maintain the connection between them.

The final stanza of the poem is particularly powerful, as Piercy captures the sense of finality and loss that comes with the friend's death. The speaker notes that "I saw her laid out in her coffin," suggesting a sense of finality and closure. The use of the past tense throughout this section reinforces the sense of loss and separation, as the speaker reflects on what has been lost.

Overall, "The Friend" is a powerful exploration of the complexities of friendship and loss. Through vivid imagery and evocative language, Piercy captures the essence of a deep and meaningful relationship between two women, and the pain of its eventual end. The poem is a testament to the power of human connection, and a reminder of the importance of cherishing those we love while we still have them.

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