The poem below is from the 2007-2009 selection from Songs of Ourselves Anthology, produced by CIE. I particularly loved the selection that year and my favorites were ‘Muliebrity’ by Sujata Bhatt and Carol Rumens’‘Carpet Weavers, Morocco’. The purpose of including ‘Carpet Weavers, Morocco’ is to add to the experience of reading the ‘Model Essay’ response.
Carpet-weavers, Morocco Carol Rumens
The children are at the loom of another world.
Their braids are oiled and black, their dresses bright.
Their assorted heights would make a melodious chime.
They watch their flickering knots like television.
As the garden of Islam grows, the bench will be raised. 5
Then they will lace the dark-rose veins of the tree-tops.
The carpet will travel in the merchant’s truck.
It will be spread by the servants of the mosque.
Deep and soft, it will give when heaped with prayer.
The children are hard at work in the school of days. 10
From their fingers the colours of all-that-will-be fly
and freeze into the frame of all-that-was.
The essay below is one written back in 2007 by Kimberly Tan, a student I taught at the British International School, Jakarta. Although the poem is no longer on the Cambridge IGCSE Syllabus, her essay will give you a good idea as to what is expected when writing one next week.
Discuss how Carol Rumens uses language and imagery to create an effective poem.
In the poem ”Carpet Weavers, Morocco”, Carol Rumens portrays the illusion of beauty radiated by the Moroccan children and their masterpieces, as seen from her point of view as a foreign English woman. Through the effective use of language and imagery, she impresses upon the reader the hopes and dreams of the children, whilst at the same time unveiling the dismal and hopeless situation in which they are trapped. There is a constant sense of irony and injustice in the poem, which successfully draws sympathy and pity from the readers.
The opening line of the first stanza, ‘The children are at the loom of another world’ brings to mind the image of children weaving. Literally, the loom is the machine at which the children weave their carpets, with ”another world” clarifying the difference of nationality between the poet and the children. However, ”loom” is also used to symbolize the omnipresence of the adult world, which can be viewed as the ‘other world’. The children’s employers hold control over their daily lives since by employing them, the children are not allowed to experience an ordinary, carefree childhood. ‘Another world’ suggests that the children do not belong in the carpet-weaving factory-they are meant to be in a world where they can grow, learn and have fun.
The second line of the stanza ‘Their braids are oiled and black, their dresses bright’, is a description of the illusion of beauty. The children are as beautiful as the carpets they weave, but they are only for show, clouding the harsh reality of their lives-hence, it is unmistakable fact that they will not be going anywhere in their beautiful attire. This idea of an illusion is supported by the third line in which Rumens uses the words ‘would make’ instead of ‘makes’ in association with a ‘melodious chime’. The melodious chime in question is a metaphor for the assorted heights of the children. However the chime is ironically melodious -there are a range of notes-not simply because of the variation in size of the children, but the range of ages-as the children are forced to work as carpet-weavers for the majority their young lives. Thus the effect of ‘would make’ suggests that the time of childhood was sacrificed on the children’s part to make a melodious chime.
The second stanza describes how the children are gazing in a transfixed manner at their works of art, as if they see something more in their carpets than just ‘flicking knots’-they see their futures, their hopes and dreams, for in a way they do depend on their carpets to earn a living, hoping that the profit made on the trade of their works will achieve their wish to finally escape from the clutches of employment , back into their childhood. They are drawn to their carpets as any child could be drawn to television because they offer a temporary form of escape as suggested by the ‘garden of Islam’.
‘Garden of Islam’ brings to mind the image of paradise or heaven. ‘The bench will be raised’ seems to suggest that the children are lifted into heaven, to be with God. ‘Lacing the dark-rose veins of the treetop’ hints at a divine power-since the children now stand with God, they have a similar ability of giving life, ‘veins’, to what would have been lifeless. However, the irony is again established when we realise that the more energy the children put into the carpets the more beautiful they become, and the more exquisite the carpets are the less likely they will be able to leave the factory as their employers would be more reluctant to release them.
Rumens tries to extract sympathy from the readers in the third stanza. The image of a carpet being tossed into ‘the merchant’s truck’ undermines the hard work the children have done. The realisation that the children will never get to see their masterpieces again, nor pray upon them is heart breaking. To think that their achievements are for the benefit of others, gives a solemn atmosphere. It is also ironic they will not be able to pray upon their own creations and instead must be content that their hard work will allow for other worshippers to send their prayers to God and have them answered, as suggested by ‘Deep and soft, it will give when heaped with prayer.’ The children receive nothing from their work except a nominal amount, which provides the reader with a startling contrast to the children’s desire for freedom.
Sympathy and pity reaches a climax in the last stanza as the first line ‘the children are hard at work in the school days’ establishes the difference between these children’s days and those of ordinary children. It is once again ironic that they phrase ‘school of days’ should be mentioned when it is clear that the children are not receiving an education. Unlike ordinary privileged children, they are forced to work, to bear the responsibility of breadwinners. The alliteration and repetition of ‘f’ in ”fingers, ‘fly’, ‘freeze’ and ‘frame’ suggests the monotonous life that the carpet-weavers lead-each day they work towards producing spectacular carpets, only to see their work being take away. Each day they wish for their carpets to give them a reliable future, but at the same time, each carpet woven is another of moment of their future gone. ‘Future’ and ‘freedom’ also begin with ‘f’ but their omitted presence signifies their absence in the children’s lives.
The last two lines of the last stanza strikes a note of finality – áll-that-will-be’ symbolizes the potential in the children to become wonderful leading adults of the world, while ‘fly and freeze into the frame of all-that-was’ conveys the message that the children are fated to be carpet-weavers for most of their childhood. By the time their eyes have grown dim from the dust and their fingers lose their nimbleness, they will be forced to leave and enter a world of which they have no knowledge or understanding. By that time, it would be too late to nurture any seeds of growth in their minds.
Carol Rumens has succeeded in conveying the moral message that children who are allowed to go to school should feel lucky and privileged, and that receiving an education means much more than just sitting in a classroom-it may well be the foundation of a desirable and free future.