Imtiaz Dharker

‘Tissue’ by Imtiaz Dharker is a beautifully thoughtful poem about the power paper has in human lives and how, by understanding it, one can also understand humanity.

Imtiaz Dharker

Nationality: Pakistani

Imtiaz Dharker is a Pakistani-born British poet and filmmaker. She also works as an artist.

She has written seven books of poetry, such as Luck is the Hook.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Life is fleeting, delicate, and beautiful.

Themes: Identity, Journey, Nature

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Contentment, Enjoyment, Excitement

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

This is a powerfully creative poem that uses paper as a metaphor for various parts of life.

This is a highly interesting poem that provides readers with a great deal to analyze. The poem speaks about paper in a way that’s entirely original and incredibly deep. Throughout the piece, Dharker uses paper to talk about everything from shopping to the destruction of cities. 


Tissue’ by Imtiaz Dharker uses the metaphor of paper to speak about the impermanence of humanity. 

In the first lines, the poet draws attention to the significance of paper in various contexts. The back pages of a well-used book or the pages of the Koran, where names and histories are recorded, represent the accumulation of human stories and experiences. 

The poet highlights the nature of buildings by suggesting that if they were made of paper, they would easily crumble and disappear with a sigh or a shift of wind.

The poem also suggests that an architect could utilize the transformative power of paper and light, creating layers of meaning and beauty in a structure. Rather than relying on durable materials like brick or block, the poet envisions a structure made of paper, representing the fragile nature of existence. 

The final lines of the poem express the idea of merging with paper as if the poet desires to become transparent like paper and be transformed by the experiences and stories it holds.

Structure and Form 

Tissue’ by Imtiaz Dharker is an eleven-stanza poem that is divided into ten quatrains, or sets of four lines, and a single one-line stanza that ends the poem. The poem is written in free verse, meaning that the poet did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines vary greatly in their sound and rhythm, something that adds to the overall feeling of this poem. 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet makes use of a few different literary devices. These include: 

  • Metaphor: a comparison between two things that doesn’t use “like” or “as.” For example, the poet compares paper to various elements and aspects of human existence, such as light, skin, and tissue.
  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions that should trigger reader’s senses. For example, “paper thinned by age or touching,” “sepia date,” and “fine slips from grocery shops.” All of these things should bring up various feelings and engage one’s senses. 
  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one, two, and three in the first stanza. 

Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two

Paper that lets the light

shine through, this


who was born to whom,

The first two stanzas of the poem contemplate the unique qualities of paper. For example, it allows light to pass through it while also possessing a transformative quality. The phrase “lets the light shine through” suggests transparency and the ability to reveal hidden aspects or truths.

The following lines emphasize the potential impact of paper. By introducing the idea of alteration, the speaker hints at the possibility of paper as a catalyst for change. This line implies that the transformative nature of paper could have profound consequences in various contexts.

The poet then provides specific examples of the kind of paper being referred to: “the kind you find in well-used books, the back of the Koran.” These references evoke images of books that have been read and cherished, symbolizing the accumulation of human knowledge, stories, and histories. 

The mention of the Koran emphasizes the profound significance of written records in religious and cultural contexts.

The poet also highlights the human connection to paper by mentioning that hands have written names and histories on their surface. This act of inscription signifies the human desire to record and preserve memories, genealogies, and narratives.

By doing so, the poem suggests that paper becomes a vessel for personal and collective identity, capturing the essence of who we are and where we come from.

Stanzas Three and Four 

the height and weight, who


in the direction of the wind.

In the next lines, the poet focuses on the specific details that are inscribed on paper, particularly regarding individuals’ lives. The speaker mentions information such as “the height and weight” and the circumstances of one’s death, including the date that is depicted in sepia tones. 

These details symbolize the tangible aspects of human existence and the events that shape our lives. The paper, over time, becomes smoothed and stroked, suggesting the repeated engagement and attention given to these records.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker explores the hypothetical scenario of buildings being made of paper. The speaker suggests that if buildings were indeed constructed from paper, they would exhibit a sense of impermanence and fragility. The line “I might feel their drift” implies the ephemeral quality of such buildings, as they would be susceptible to the slightest movement or change. 

The imagery of buildings falling away “on a sigh, a shift in the direction of the wind” portrays their vulnerability and the ease with which they could be swept away. This metaphorical representation of buildings highlights their temporary nature.

Stanzas Five and Six 

Maps too. The sun shines through


might fly our lives like paper kites.

In the fifth stanza, the poet observes how the sunlight shines through the borderlines of maps, as well as the markings that represent rivers, roads, rail tracks, and mountain folds. This imagery suggests that maps, like paper, have the ability to transmit and reveal information.

The mention of sunlight passing through the map’s borderlines and markings signifies the interconnectedness of people and places. It symbolizes the idea that geographical features and pathways are not fixed or static but rather fluid and subject to change in the same way that people are. 

In the next few lines, the speaker shifts focus to the everyday slips of paper, such as receipts from grocery shops. These slips of paper record information about the items purchased and the amount paid by credit card. The speaker suggests that these seemingly insignificant pieces of paper have the potential to shape our lives in unexpected ways. 

The metaphor of paper kites flying our lives implies that these small records have the power to carry our experiences, transactions, and daily interactions. They symbolize the influence of mundane details and the ways in which they can impact our personal narratives and broader societal dynamics.

Stanzas Eight and Nine 

An architect could use all this,


find a way to trace a grand design

In the next quatrain, the speaker envisions the architect utilizing the diverse characteristics of paper. This imagined architect can layer different types of paper, combining them to create a multifaceted structure. 

The use of words like “luminous” and “script” suggest to the reader that the architect could, if they wanted, incorporate translucent or transparent paper with writing or artistic elements into the design. 

By doing so, the architect can go beyond conventional building materials like brick or block. The notion of layering signifies the depth and complexity that paper can bring to architectural design, allowing light and meaning to permeate the structure.

The ninth stanza suggests that by embracing paper and its many qualities, the architect can allow daylight to penetrate the structure. This implies that the architect creates spaces where light can enter, symbolizing a sense of openness, enlightenment, and transparency. 

The mention of “capitals and monoliths” alludes to monumental and prideful structures, hinting at the idea of breaking through the rigid and imposing forms that the human ego can create.

Stanzas Ten and Eleven 

with living tissue, raise a structure


turned into your skin.

In the final quatrain of the poem, the speaker suggests that an architect can construct a structure using “living tissue,” metaphorically referring to paper. This phrase symbolizes the organic and malleable nature of paper as it is shaped and transformed by human hands. 

The structure created with this “living tissue” is described as being “never meant to last.” It implies that the architect intentionally constructs a temporary edifice. By utilizing paper that has been “smoothed and stroked” and thinned to be transparent, the architect imbues the structure with a delicate quality.

The final stanza deepens the metaphor by stating that this structure, made of paper, becomes akin to one’s own skin. By saying, “turned into your skin,” the speaker blurs the boundary between the physical self and the constructed environment. 

This line suggests a fusion between the ephemeral quality of paper and the individual’s personal identity. It conveys the idea that the structure, like one’s skin, becomes an intimate and inseparable part of who they are.


What is the tone of ‘Tissue?’

The tone of this poem can be described as contemplative, reflective, and philosophical. The speaker’s observations and musings about the transformative qualities of paper, its connection to human stories, and the transient nature of existence evoke a thoughtful and introspective tone.

What does the title of the poem ‘Tissue’ mean? 

On one level, the title refers to the physical material of paper, which is thin and delicate, allowing light to pass through. Additionally, the title can be interpreted metaphorically, symbolizing the interconnectedness of human lives and stories, like the interconnected cells that make up biological tissue.

What is the purpose of ‘Tissue?’

The purpose is to explore the power of paper and the nature of human life. The poet contemplates the significance of paper in capturing and transmitting human stories, as well as the ephemeral quality of human-made creations.

What is style of ‘Tissue?’

This is a contemporary poem that’s written in free verse. The language is accessible yet rich in meaning, inviting readers to engage with the themes and ideas presented in the poem.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Imtiaz Dharker poems. For example: 

  • Blessing’ – is about the importance of water in people’s lives and how it is critical to survival. 
  • Honour Killing – is a poem about the fight for freedom and how the achieved freedom allows one to express themselves. 

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Imtiaz Dharker (poems)

Imtiaz Dharker

Imtiaz Dharker's poetry, including 'Tissue,' showcases her distinctive style and thematic concerns. Her poetry often explores themes of identity, memory, and the power of everyday objects. In this poem, Dharker's poetic voice shines through as she contemplates the delicate nature of paper and its connection to human stories. Her unique perspective, shaped by her Pakistani heritage and her experiences as a woman, adds depth and richness to her poetry, making her an important voice in contemporary literature.
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20th Century

This poem can be appreciated in the context of 20th-century poetry, which saw a shift towards experimentation, free verse, and the exploration of personal and universal themes. In this poem, Imtiaz Dharker employs free verse and evocative imagery to convey her ideas, hallmarks of this period. Dharker's poem echoes the modernist sensibility of capturing the fleeting moments of life and the interconnectedness of human experiences. It aligns with the spirit of experimentation and the breaking of traditional poetic conventions that characterized much of 20th-century poetry.
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As an acclaimed Pakistani poet, Imtiaz Dharker's background and cultural influences undoubtedly shape her poetry, including 'Tissue.' While the poem does not explicitly touch upon Pakistani themes, it bears the mark of Dharker's Pakistani heritage through her unique perspective, language, and cultural references. Dharker's voice adds to the diverse and rich landscape of Pakistani poetry, contributing to the broader tapestry of literary expression. It's a very good example of Pakistani verse.
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This poem explores the theme of identity as the poem contemplates the significance of written names and histories on paper. The inscriptions represent the interconnected web of individual identities, capturing the essence of who we are and our place within a larger narrative.
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The theme of journey emerges in this poem as the poet contemplates the transient nature of existence and the transformative power of experiences. The metaphorical journey of constructing a structure with paper reflects the larger journey of life, where buildings, maps, and even fine slips from grocery shops can represent the different stages and encounters readers face.
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While not explicitly mentioned, the theme of nature can be inferred in 'Tissue' through the imagery of paper as a metaphor. The delicate and interconnected aspects of paper symbolize the resilience and beauty of the natural world.
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Contentment is subtly touched upon in this poem. The poem suggests that contentment can be found in the act of paying attention to life, like the digging into the details of actions, emotions, and the natural world.
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Enjoyment is subtly present in this poem. It highlights the poet's interest in the way that paper represents aspects of everyday life. Readers may also find themselves feeling enjoyment that the clever connections the poet makes in this poem.
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While the poem has a more contemplative tone, the theme of excitement can be interpreted through the poet's interest in the subject matter. It reminds readers that even seemingly ordinary aspects of life hold the power to ignite one's enthusiasm.
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This poem explores the theme of humanity through its contemplation of human stories and the interconnectedness of our lives. The inscribed names, histories, and details on paper represent the vast tapestry of human experiences and the ways in which readers' lives intertwine.
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The theme of life is central to this poem as the poet contemplates the delicate nature of existence. It reflects on the impermanence of life and the beauty that lies within its ephemeral moments. The poet taps into a variety of life-related images throughout this piece.
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Life Lessons

This poem encapsulates life lessons through its exploration of the fleeting and interconnected nature of human stories. It suggests that stories, like tissue paper, are meant to be fragile and transparent. The poem teaches readers to appreciate the beauty in impermanence.
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The theme of power is subtly addressed in this poem through the contrast between solid structures and the transparency of paper. The poem challenges traditional notions of power associated with permanence and solidity, suggesting that strength can be found in the intangible and delicate aspects of life.
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Free Verse

This poem is a good example of the style of free verse poetry. The poem does not adhere to a specific rhyme scheme or meter, allowing the poet to freely express thoughts and observations. This allows for a more natural and fluid expression of ideas and emotions.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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