What is the effect of the architectural metaphors in ‘Tissue’?

Selecting the most significant quotes from the Power and Conflict poems can be difficult. There are so many great ones to choose from. So, take a look at this quote that I find really useful, in my teaching and in my own Power and Conflict exam model answers, for exploring the architectural metaphor in ‘Tissue’:

An architect could…

let the daylight break

through capitals and monoliths,

through the shapes that pride can make,

find a way to trace a grand design

with living tissue, raise a structure

never meant to last.

From ‘Tissue’ by Imtiaz Dharker

Analysis of the quote

The speaker wonders how things would be different “if buildings were paper.” Capitals, the topmost part of a supporting column, and monoliths, a structure made from a single stone, are broken through by “daylight.” Monolith and/or the adjective monolithic are also often used metaphorically to refer to very large institutions that are slow to change and not interested in individual people.

Here, the monolithic buildings suggest arrogance and “pride,” the desire to build an everlasting “grand design.” Compare this with Ozymandias’ desire to build a grand design to communicate his arrogance for eternity.

Meanwhile, fragile paper is presented as ephemeral, creating buildings “never meant to last.” While readers may be surprised by this hope – surely, we want solid buildings? – the speaker seems to welcome the sweeping away of solid structures.

The implication is ambiguous, and students will have different interpretations. Here’s one: the speaker suggests that structures, including buildings and human institutions of control such as countries and religions, seem solid but can melt away leaving only fragile humans, whose significance will long outlast the records we make of our lives, on paper or in buildings.

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