The tones of Lorde's poem "Power" are those of anger, bitterness, passionate intensity, and determination.
Lorde's speaker expresses her anger over the police killing of a ten-year-old black child. She expresses anger that a police office stood over the child and wanted him to die and that, later, in court, said all he saw was the child's race, not his size or his age. She writes that her anger might build up to such intensity that she could imagine murdering an 85-year-old white woman in retaliation for crimes against blacks:
beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
Her tone of bitterness runs through much of the poem and is expressed at the end in the idea that were her rage at injustice to drive her to murder, she would simply be stereotyped as an animal, imagining whites saying:
What beasts they [blacks] are.
Lorde's tone is uncomfortably intense. She does not try to shy away from or mute the raw passion of what she feels, using imagery of blood running for miles to convey her emotions:
I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste ...
She also repeats the word of the police officer in a raw way, repeating his term, "motherfucker," an emotional, ugly, impolite word that reveals his racism and hatred toward the boy he has killed.
But Lorde also weaves into the poem a tone of determination that acts as a rational counterweight to the raw emotion and anger she feels. She is determined not just to talk or feel angry but to do something:
unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
She realizes she has to find a constructive way to channel the destructive energies coursing through her if she is going to help change the world in a positive way.