Marge Piercy

To have without holding by Marge Piercy

‘To have without holding’ by Marge Piercy tells of a different way of loving that will take one high, and  is without malice or angry moments. 

‘To have without holding’ by Marge Piercy is a four stanza poem that is made up of varying lines and line lengths. The stanzas range in length from five to twelve lines and have anywhere from three to twelve syllables. 

One of the most important elements of this piece is Piercy’s choice to focus heavily on alliteration. This is evident throughout the poem but nowhere more so than in stanza four in which she writes, “bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing.” While these lines might in other contexts seem contrived, they greatly contribute to Piercy’s overall style in this piece. 

One might also take note of the rhythm of this piece, for example, in the first stanza in which the speaker is describing the “thwack” a rubber band makes when hit against “an open palm,” the lines come together in a way that mimics that action. Often times, poems that rely heavily on rhythm are best understood when read aloud. 

To have without holding by Marge Piercy



To have without holding’ by Marge Piercy tells of a different way of loving that will take one high, and is without malice or angry moments. 

The poem begins with the speaker stating that although it will be difficult, “you,” who turns out to be her lover, should love with “arms open.” She is introducing the way she believes is the best for forming a strong relationship. She wants her listener to be like an open cabinet or door through which the wind can rustle. This movement is positive, but it can be negative and pain may come. 

She continues on the state that the new movements of one’s body as they are opened up will be physically painful as if moving with muscles made of plaster. The speaker advocates for love to endure past the difficult moments and malice and exist without boundaries. 

In the final stanza, it is revealed that the speaker is talking to her lover whose life she hopes to improve. If he will only do as she says, the two of them will exist together peacefully. 


Analysis of To have without holding

Stanza One

Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.

In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker is beginning her description of what it is like to change the way that one loves. She is addressing the reader assuming that he or she has an understanding of what it is to love incorrectly, or unhealthily. As one reads through this piece the complications and benefits of a different form of love will be revealed. 

The first element of this love that she describes is a willingness to embrace others with “hands wide open,” like doors that are “banging on their hinges.” This action, of opening up to whatever comes next, is difficult, it will not come easily. One will be like a, 

…cupboard unlocked, the wind 

Roaring and whimpering in the rooms

Someone loving this way will be exposed and vulnerable to the actions of others. It is possible, as the wind is rustling through the room, or lovers come and go from one’s embrace, that the blinds might, 

thwack like rubber bands 

In an open palm. 

There is always the possibility of being hurt by that one embraces, that comes with the act of love. 


Stanza Two

It hurts to love wide open
of sharp knives.

In the second stanza, which is only made up of five lines, the speaker elaborates on the pain of loving “wide open.” Due to the fact that this kind of openness is new to many, one might be stiff when first attempting the necessary actions. Moving the muscles of the body in this new way will make one feel as if their muscles, 

Are made of wet plaster,

Then of blunt knives, then

Of sharp knives. 

This progression from stiffness to genuine pain references the way in which one lover might injure another. This will always be a possibility, but the pain of being open will decrease over time. 


Stanza Three

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch ; to love and let
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

In the third stanza, the speaker returns to her metaphors that represent the difficulties ahead for anyone who takes her advice and loves like “doors open.” One’s reflexes will be tested. Due to the way in which many have been raised and forced to act in the world, the instinct to “clutch” and “grab” will be very strong. One must resist this impulse, even though it is very strong. 

It will go against one’s initial instinct to not “love and let / go again and again. “ The poet is commenting on modern culture’s need to keep moving on, and she’s advocating against it. One should be willing to “conscientiously, concretely, [and] constructively,” accept others. There should be no “pester[ing]” or nagging thoughts about what one’s significant other is doing or who is holding back what. Life should be lived freely. 


Stanza Four

I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.

In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker continues to address the concerns of her listener who turns out to be her own lover.  He says to her that he is unable to do it, that it is “killing” him. She answers blissfully, stating that it is good for one to suffer in this way. It is making “you glow” like a “neon raspberry.” 

The act of free and open love will take one high, where it is possible to “float and sail, “ like a “helium balloon” that is blue like a “bachelor’s button” and is “bobbing” through the cool air. This rhythmic motion is echoed in the bobbing rhythm of the words that the poet has chosen. 

The narrative continues as the speaker states that the love that she and her listener will share, will work in tandem with the beating of their hearts. As their hearts pump blood, their love, (which they do not hold, only have) will be increased. It will exist without “malice” or hunger.” They will not see one another through an “anger moment” but a “moment balanced” in all ways and with all aspects, of the world. 


About Marge Piercy 

Marge Piercy was born in March of 1936 in Detroit, Michigan to a working-class family. As a young woman, Piercy studied at the University of Michigan where she was the first member of her close family to attend college. She eventually earned an MA from Northwestern University and throughout the 60s worked as an organizer of political movements. She was inclined with the Students for a Democratic Society and many groups affiliated with feminism, environmental policy, and anti-Vietnam War protests. 

Throughout her life, Piercy has published approximately 20 novels, and 20 books of poetry. Much of her work focuses on social issues, written from a feminist position. One of her most popular works, He, She, and It, published in 1991 won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. 

In regards to her poetic works, her volume, The Moon is Always Female is considered to be one of the classic texts of feminism. Her most recent collection came out in 2015 and was titled Made in Detroit. 

She currently lives and works in Cape Cod, Massachusetts alongside her husband. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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