For GCSE English in Britain, the language section involves 15 poems we have to write about in the exam. In 45 minutes, we get one of the poems, and we have to compare it to another of the 14 poems from memory based on a question that could be related to power. One poem stands out as particularly challenging: Tissue. You can read Tissue online.

Just to show that I'm not literally asking for the 'answer', here is a range of questions that the teachers think examiners may ask on this question:

Power of Humans, Power of Nature, Effects of Conflict, Reality of Conflict, Loss and Absence, Memory, Negative Emotion [anger/guilt/fear/pride], Identity, Individual Experiences.

E.g. "Compare how the writer presents loss and absence in Ozymandias and one other poem."

To me, it seems like a vague, rambling monologue about buildings and paper. We've studied it in class, but everything has gone right over our heads, for want of anything related to the power concept that is direct enough to gain marks in an exam. We're told to get to the heart of each poem, but Tissue is very trying, and none of my friends are faring much better.

Apart from references that our lives are controlled too much by money ("Fine slips"/"paid by credit card"), can you spot any underlying messages about power that would make sense in an exam, and aren't generalized?

Just for the sake of context in terms of power when it comes to our poetry cluster, here are a few other poems from the power section in case anyone knows them -

Ozymandias, London, The Emigree, My Last Duchess, Storm on the Island, Checking out me History, and The Prelude.

A few bullet points on power would be great (there are million possible interpretations of this poem, but don't write an essay!).

  • 2
    Based on the feedback from this meta question, and particularly OP's answer to the question, I'm reopening this question. I've cleaned up the comments here; please redirect further discussion on topicality to that meta post.
    – user80
    Mar 5, 2017 at 12:00

2 Answers 2


There is an old adage: "history is written by the victors".

Paper that lets the light
shine through, this
is what could alter things.

"Paper" - even paper so aged and feeble that it can't stop light - has the power to "alter things". The people who control what is written, published and read are in control of a great deal of power, the power of information.

the kind you find in well-used books,
the back of the Koran, where a hand
has written in the names and histories,
who was born to whom,

This reminds us that, whether you believe they were divinely guided or not, humans wrote the holy books. Those holy books were so powerful they dictated the entire course of civilisation.

In modern society, in spite of the advent of digital communication, paper still commands enormous power. Think of birth certificates, legal forms, all the paper that feeds the bureaucracy of the state. And

Fine slips from grocery shops
that say how much was sold
and what was paid by credit card

Paper remains fundamental to our finance - it proves what we bought, what we own. Some money is even made of paper. And in the modern age, money is the surest route to power, while the amount each of us has exerts enormous power over our lives.

Maps too. The sun shines through
their borderlines, the marks
that rivers make, roads,
railtracks, mountainfolds,

We live in an age of renewed international conflict. Paper maps control where the winners think the borders lie. This is an interesting stanza because while a paper map can't really lie about where rivers and mountains are, these natural features are juxtaposed with artificial ones, road and rail.

An architect could use all this,
place layer over layer, luminous

Paper controls where these go, who owns them - same goes for something as essential as the house you live in.

And yet:

If buildings were paper, I might
feel their drift, see how easily
they fall away on a sigh, a shift

Just as paper is fragile, power is fragile. History - and modern media - is littered with examples of how quickly the mighty can fall. Look at Lehmann Brothers - literally ruined overnight by a paper trail.

turned into your skin.

As paper thins and fails so does human skin, withered with age. In spite of all our power, we cannot escape mortality.

A final thought. Light is an omnipresent feature throughout the poem. Light is often used as a metaphor for the ultimate power: the divine. In the poem, this power is never answered to directly, it simply exists.


I think that this poem is very challenging, with many different interpretations. However, the link to power in this poem would be about the power of paper - throughout the poem, paper is shown with different connotations to life. The fact that paper is so powerful could also link to civilisation itself, and humankinds power and intelligence. Even fragile paper can record such important things such as family life, transactions national borders or religion. The connotations behind each type of paper mentioned can be analysed too - Does a kite represent childhood and freedom? Does a paper reciept show a commercialised society? Does all of humankinds power come down to something as simple as paper? As you mentioned Ozzymandias, which is about a statue in effect, there are links between the two poems, and how humankind records things, like powerful people. Hope this helped a bit.

  • 1
    Interesting, thanks for this answer! But it could still be backed up a bit better - e.g. could you edit to add some examples of "throughout the poem, paper is shown with different connotations to life"?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Apr 25, 2018 at 18:18

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