The poem is filled with metaphors and deeper layers of meaning that are quite interesting. It might take one more than one reading to fully comprehend what it is the poet is trying to accomplish, but it’s worth the effort. ‘A Stone is Nobody’s’ is perhaps most interesting because of the way that it can apply to multiple situations and relationships.
Explore A Stone is Nobody's
‘A Stone is Nobody’s’ by Russell Edson is a thoughtful and interesting poem that emphasizes the complexity of a mother/son relationship.
The poet begins by describing a man who captured a stone and held it prisoner, watching over it inside a home for the rest of his life. The man, the other speaker’s son, is called out for this. The mother asks him what he thought he was doing as the stone has no idea whether it’s in a garden or in a house. It’s sleeping, she adds. The son expresses his desire to keep the stone captive because it’s his; he’s conquered it. He’s doing it because it’s something he can control. He blames his actions, eventually, on the fact that his mother never loved him. She admits that this is true because he treated her like the stone.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘A Stone is Nobody’s’ by Russell Edson is an eighteen-line poem that is separated into uneven stanzas. These range in length from one line, such as in stanza two, to four lines, as in stanza four. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, there are examples of rhyme, such as half-rhyme, to be seen throughout the lines. For example, “know” and “stone” use the same vowel sound.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “captive” and “captured” in lines five and six as well as “nobody’s, not” in line twelve.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza as well as lines one and two of the third stanza.
- Metaphor: a comparison between two things that doesn’t use “like” or “as.” In the first few lines, the speakers compares a stone to a prisoner and the person who found it to a prison guard.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting and evocative descriptions. For example: “Look, the stone is asleep, she said, it does not know / whether it’s in a garden or not. Eternity and the stone.”
A man ambushed a stone. Caught it. Made it a prisoner.
Put it in a dark room and stood guard over it for the
He said, because it’s held captive, because it is
In the first lines of ‘A Stone is Nobody’s’, the speaker beings by describing a man who ambushes (or picks up and takes home) a stone. He “made it a prisoner.” The poet uses a metaphor to compare the man to a prison guard. He takes the stone, keeps it captive, and watches over it for the “rest of his life.” The man’s only reason for taking and keeping the stones s because “it’s held captive because it is captured.” This is a way of suggesting that the man took the stone because he could. He has control over it.
The poem introduces a dialogue between the man and his mother. She asks him questions and speaks to him about the stone as the poem progresses. She’s somewhat a voice of reason but, there is a complexity to their relationship that makes everything she says mean more than it seems.
The stone is only sleeping.
But I caught it, mother, it is mine by conquest, he said.
The mother, in an effort to reason with her son and make him understand that keeping a stone is pointless, tells him that it’s “asleep” and doesn’t know if it’s in a garden or not.” The stone is resting and will remain the same forever. She makes a comparison between the stone and “eternity” and a daughter and her mother. This is interesting, considering that she might’ve made the effort to include her son in the metaphor but didn’t. She sees the connection with a daughter but not with her son.
The son argues back in an effort to show her why he’s keeping the stone. He “caught it,” and he has control over it. “It is mine by conquest,” he says. This reasoning suggests a stereotypical approach to manhood wherein one takes what they can and is not apologetic.
A stone is nobody’s, not even its own. It is you who are
conquered; you are minding the prisoner, which is yourself,
Which is true, because you have always been to me as
the stone is to you, she said.
The following few lines relay the mother’s words again. She tells the son that the stone belongs to no one, not even “it’s own.” The son, she believes, is “afraid to go out.” He’s become the prisoner through his monitoring of the stone. It is he who is the “conquered” one.
The son admits the truth in this but adds that it’s because “you have never loved me.” The mother knows this to be true and replies with what is perhaps the most important line of the poem. She’s always been treated, by her son, like the stone. As something to be kept, monitored, imprisoned, and conquered. She hasn’t been respected and therefore has held back her love.
The tone changes from explanatory to passionate and painful. The speaker, depending on who is talking, uses their personal experiences to express their opinion of the stone and its. The mother and the son see different ways of treating it.
The themes at work in this poem are mother/son relationships and free-will/freedom. The speaker emphasizes these through his depiction of the son’s treatment of the stone, his interest in “conquering” something, and the mother’s admission that she never loved him.
The speaker changes between a mother and her son. The son begins the poem, and then the poet alternates between her words and the son’s words.
The purpose is to explore a mother-son relationship through the depiction of the son’s treatment of a stone. It compares ways of considering other beings in the world and what can or should be “kept.”
Readers who enjoyed ‘A Stone is Nobody’s‘ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘How happy is the little Stone’ by Emily Dickinson – describes a stone’s rambling adventures, evoking joy and whimsy in the reader.
- ‘Stone’ by Charles Simic – a short and impactful poem. In it, the speaker describes why he’d like to be a stone more than another living creature, like a dove or tiger.
- ‘Simplicity’ by Emily Dickinson – speaks on the important concept of happiness. The speaker emphasizes how heavy the world can seem at times.