Would you explain the poem of "Song of Powers" by David Mason stanza by stanza?

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perfectsilence eNotes educator| Certified Educator

David Mason's "Song of the Powers" presents a unique take on an old childhood game. The basis for the poem is clearly the age-old struggle of "Paper Rock Scissors," with each "power" contributing a stanza to the poem. The first stanza belongs to what is traditionally called the rock. The stone gloats of its power to "crush." It alone is "stronger than wishes" and is able to destroy the scissors (5). However, stanza two belongs to paper, that which the rock cannot destroy.

In stanza two, the paper claims "mine are the words / that smother the stone" (8-9). While words cannot smother, the paper they are written on can, as long as a "shaper" exists to write and the writing exists. In short, it is near-immortal. With its ability to smother rock and live forever, paper's power seems limitless, until the final power speaks.

In stanza three, the scissors claim "all the knives" that are "gnashing through paper's / ethereal lives" (15-16). Despite the fact that paper's words are preserved in print, scissors can still destroy them all. Further, at the end of the stanza, the scissors move beyond the pride espoused by the stone and paper, suggesting, not only pride, but also a certain level of enjoyment in the destruction, stating "no thing's so proper / as tattering wishes" (17-18).

The final stanza presents a different speaker, one that is not part of the traditional three-way game of destruction. This last entity presents the finality of the game, stating that the three entities "all end alone" (22). The narrator then addresses the reader, suggesting the grim finality that the three combatants face is one that all face:

So heap up your paper
and scissor your wishes
and uproot the stone
from the top of the hill.
They all end alone
as you will, you will. (23-28)

While the final stanza presents a foreboding vision, it exists more as a symbolic warning that we should heed, rather than a promise of what is in store. If we continue to "heap up [...] paper / and scissor [...] wishes / and uproot [...] stone," if we continue to allow our pride to control us and perpetuate violence toward and destroy the wishes of one another, then we will "all end alone."

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem 'The Song Of The Powers' by David Mason is also about loneliness. Each 'powerful entity' steps forward alone to boast of it's attributes. The poem starts 'Mine, said the stone' as if we the readers have come upon a conversation that is already in flow - and the argument has already been initiated. The stone appears to be claiming a particular victory over which they are all arguing, rather than power universally ('mine is the hour.')It is as if the stone sees itself as 'owning ' Time.

The paper on the other hand 'owns' Language and all the powers of persuasion and propaganda that go with that. ('mine are the words') Each power goes on in the same vein, boasting of their particular remits. The poem ends with a reminder about the one big disadvantage of absolute power - it corrupts. To have the final say about world events, to look around and see nowhere to pass the buck on - has been said to be the loneliest place in the world. They should be working together as a team to minimize this and capitalize on their strengths. Countries can support each other to work towards peace, to resolve war and conflict.

kc4u | Student

Mason's poem divided into four parts is principally about the ironies of power. It teaches a very simple moral lesson--however powerful may one be, the real power is a power of unity. All the powerful entities would have to remain united to exercise their power or make something out of it. On the other hand, if they use their power against each other, they will only end up crushing each other, neutralizing their powers and all of them would have die all alone.

The stone, the first declares his power by saying that he is capable of crushing the scissors. He controls time over others. He is more powerful than the vanity of human wishes.

The paper is the second to announce its power of words which can crush a stone with anything that words are able to create. This is the subjective power as opposed to that of the objective, the stone. The stone may shape time but the paper shapes the mind.

The knife is the third announcer. His is a power of violence cutting across a paper, wounding it with all its energy, like tattering the vanity of human desires.

The final stanza tells the story of their mutual neutralization and thus comes the instruction at the end not to wage a war among them. One has to renounce the excesses of desire and destination, cutting them down not to die all alone.