‘Song of the Powers’ by David Mason is a poem about the different roles of authority and how one can be superior to the other. Overall, the poet highlights the morals and rationales that come with power. It describes the various degrees or forms in which strength comes. At last, only one will be the most powerful when they face off. This piece taps on the themes of power, the inevitability of ending alone, and the futility of life.
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In ‘Song of the Powers,’ David Mason describes the concept of “power” in the pecking order of stone, paper, and scissors.
In the beginning, the stone talks about how it has the power to control time and crush the scissors. The second verse is told from the perspective of the paper. It describes how it has control of “words” and can smother the stone. After that, the scissors say that it can cut paper into tatters and all the beautiful words it has. In the end, the poet depicts how stone, paper, and scissors have different advantages. When they face-off, only one remains as the last object standing. In the case of human beings, the same law is applicable: “They all end alone/ as you will, you will.”
You can read the full poem here.
Mine, said the stone,
mine is the hour.
Stronger than wishes,
my power, alone.
The first stanza of ‘Song of the Powers’ is written from the perspective of the stone. In this stanza, the speaker describes how it crushes the scissors. When it has to fight against scissors, it is the moment to prove itself. No matter what someone wishes for, the stone has such strength that it can crush it all alone. The last two lines can also be interpreted differently. Here, the “stone” symbolizes the indomitable courage that is stronger than only a mere wish. When a wish is combined with strong determination, a person’s success is inevitable.
Mine, said the paper,
mine are the words
reams of them, flown
from the mind of the shaper.
In the second verse, Mason talks about the paper. People write words on it. So, the paper has the power to contain and sustain the precious words mixed with emotions. Apart from that, it also has the strength to beat the stone by smothering it. Here, the “stone” symbolizes the conventions and notions of society that seem hard to change. But a thinker’s revolutionary thoughts, first penned down on paper, reach a larger audience, it can eventuate a change in society. In this way, the speaker describes how imagination can run wild on paper, and great thoughts can potentially shape the worldview of others.
Mine, said the scissors,
mine all the knives
nothing’s so proper
as tattering wishes.
In the third stanza, the scissors refer to their sisters, “knives” that can also cut through the papers. Here, the knives/scissors symbolize greed, lust for power, and cruelty. The great thoughts written on paper prove useless when people forget their moral values. Even after the writer’s death, the words that live seem futile in that scenario. In the last lines, the speaker says that nothing is proper or acceptable as tattering great wishes. However, the tone reflects that the “scissors” like to tear up wishes written on a mere paper.
As stone crushes scissors,
as paper snuffs stone
They all end alone
as you will, you will.
In the first three lines of the last stanza, the poet describes how stone can crush scissors, scissors can cut paper, and paper can cover stone. In this way, Mason shows that one always has an advantage over the other, but they all end up alone. There is only one constant in this ongoing fight for power. It is the certainty of ending alone by eliminating the others.
In the following lines, the speaker is pessimistic about the future. He believes that all the powers cannot survive till the end. So, it is better to prepare oneself for the foreseeable future. They must heap up their paper without writing anything useful on them, scissor their wishes, and uproot the stone of belief from the top of the hill.
At last, the poet says that those in power make people quarrel, but it makes them lonely. Thus, the poet ends the poem by saying that if “you” (the readers) pick unnecessary fights, they will end up alone, like the stone, paper, and scissors.
‘Song of the Powers’ is written in the free-verse form. It has a total of four stanzas, with six lines in the first three verses and ten lines in the last verse. The text does not have a regular rhyme scheme or meter. However, readers can find a few instances of alternative rhyming in each stanza. For instance, in the first stanza, the second and fourth lines end with the same rhyme, “hour” and “power.” Besides, the poem is written from a third-person point of view. The structure of the lines is short and straightforward, which makes the poem easy to read. It also maintains a swift flow throughout the piece.
Mason makes use of the following literary devices in his poem ‘Song of the Powers.’
- Personification: In this poem, Mason personifies the “stone,” “paper,” and “scissors.” He invests them with the idea of talking.
- Anaphora: It occurs in the first two lines of each stanza. For example, the first two lines of the third stanza, “Mine, said the scissors,/ mine all the knives,” begin with the word “Mine.”
- Imagery: Mason employs visual imagery across the text. For instance, “I crush the scissors” contains an image of the stone disabling the scissors.
- Consonance: The “s” sound is repeated in the line, “Mine, said the scissors.” It occurs in some other instances as well.
- Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text. For example, the following lines are connected internally: “So heap up your paper/ and scissor your wishes/ and uproot the stone/from the top of the hill.”
- Metaphor: The poet compares “stone,” “paper,” and “scissors” to people who are in authority/power, always fighting to top one another.
The poem ‘Song of the Powers’ was first published in one of the best-known collections of David Mason’s poems, The Country I Remember. It came to print in 1996 and won the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award. David Mason is an American writer and poet. His notable poetry collections are The Buried Houses, The Poetry of Life and the Life of Poetry, Ludlow, etc. He is renowned for his verse novel Ludlow, a historical account of the Ludlow Massacre of April 20, 1914. David Mason’s poems tap on a wide array of subjects, such as family, relationships, outdoor life, travel, history, and the American West.
David Mason’s poem ‘Song of the Powers’ is about the role of power in our lives. This poem describes how adversaries often overpower the other. In the end, they all end up alone.
The poem conveys the message that one group can have advantages over others. However, getting into quarrels based on something as futile as power will lead them to end up alone. In this poem, Mason strives to establish how the lust for power divides humanity and composes a pessimistic future.
This piece is written in free-verse. It means there is no specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern in the text. It consists of four stanzas, each having only a few instances of rhyming. The first three stanzas of the poem are written from the perspectives of stone, paper, and scissors, respectively.
The poem was first published in David Mason’s poetry collection, The Country I Remember in 1996. This collection won the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award.
This poem taps on several themes, including power, loneliness, conflict, the futility of life, and the inevitability of ending up alone.
Readers who enjoyed reading David Mason’s ‘Song of the Powers’ may consider reading the following poems. They can also read some other David Mason poems as well.
- ‘Power’ by Adrienne Rich — This poem is about the will and determination of one of the greatest scientists, Marie Curie.
- ‘To a Blank Sheet of Paper’ by Oliver Wendell Holmes — This piece talks about the power of a blank sheet of paper that influences readers with the writing on it.
- ‘Power’ by Audre Lorde — First published in 1978, this poem is about the murder of a boy named Clifford Glover.
- ‘There’s No Power Like Home’ by Amanda Gorman — This piece is a beautiful testament to the difficulties associated with the pandemic restrictions.