The Right Word Analysis by Imtiaz Dharker

This article is an analysis of the poem The Right Word by Imtiaz Dharker.

Analysis of The Right Word:

The poem explores the doubt and uncertainty of a post-9/11 world in terms of language and identity.


Is that the wrong description?
Outside that door,
taking shelter in the shadows,
is a freedom-fighter.

  • No regular rhythm or rhyme scheme

The lack of regular and uniform rhythm and rhyme scheme help to reinforce how this is a poem about uncertainty. We live in a divided global community which is unpredictable, as is the rhythmic pattern of the poem. This is also reflective of how the voice of the poem is searching for the ‘right word’, looking for ways of uniting different attitudes and a resolution to the problems faced by the world.


I haven’t got this right.
Outside, waiting in the shadows,
is a hostile militant.
One word for you.
Outside my door,
his hand too steady,
his eyes too hard
is a boy who looks like your son, too.

  • Use of the first person
  • The direct address of the reader
  • Varying stanza lengths

Using a first and second person to address the reader show that the message of the poem is relevant to everyone. The reader is involved in the poem and, by extension, involved with the themes being explored.

The varying stanza lengths reflect the themes of uncertainty and doubt that pervade the poem. The lack of a formal structure and pattern show the unpredictability of the post-9/11 era.


Terrorist/freedom- fighter/militant/warrior/martyr/child

Lurking/taking shelter/lost in shadows

  • Simple and direct language
  • Language changes as poem progress
  • Connotations of threat change to vulnerability

The changing nouns to describe the central image show the power of words. The initial connotations of threat are removed as the language changes. Dharker is exploring the lexis of a post-9/11 age expanding upon the quotation: ”One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter” written by Gerald Seymour in the novel Harry’s Game.

Dharker forces the reader to reflect on the labels that we apply through language in all contexts, not just those concerning terrorism. Words described as 'wavering flags' show how meaning can be distorted through different perspectives.


Outside the door



  • The repeated image of the door represents barriers/difference
  • Shadows imply threat, fear, and uncertainty
  • Menacing images change into those that evoke sympathy

The figurative barrier that is represented by the image of the door suggests security and difference. 'Outside the door' offers no shelter or protection and 'shadows' imply a sense of fear and we protect ourselves by remaining inside. The repetition of the image reinforces that the post-9/11 age is one of division and suspicion.

The Right Word by Imtiaz Dharker

The central image of the terrorist initially suggests danger but the threat and fear is gradually broken down by the changing perspective. Dharker questions the labels we use but also challenges us to remove our barriers in order to change our view of the world.


Outside the door,
lurking in the shadows,
is a terrorist.
I haven’t got this right
Come in and eat with us.
The child steps in
and carefully, at my door,
takes off his shoes.

  • Tone changes throughout the poem
  • Voice/poet is correcting the tone of the poem
  • Welcoming and inviting language towards the end

As a result of the blunt language and menacing imagery, the poem starts off in a sinister way. The voice of the poem is questioning their own description and, perhaps, their own attitudes and wants the reader to do the same. The welcoming and inviting language of the final stanzas show that there is hope offered by breaking down our barriers, by removing that which makes us different or, indeed, accepting difference, we can bring unity and harmony to the world.


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