Commentry on Ishapen Carpet
A commentary on an untitled piece by Elizabeth Burge Vibhuti Vazirani
This untitled piece of literature certainly has a most unusual structure, which to my mind is quite unique. It is the first time I have discovered that a poem that looks like a list of important points! 21 points to be precise! As I began to read it, I was quite surprised to find that its more than a list of points . I would think that it could be described as and to an elegy as it delves into the deeper aspects of, child labour. In the poem, the poetess, Elizabeth Burge, describes the visit of a tourist, possibly herself, to a Persian carpet-weaving workshop. In the poem, she uses “conciseness” and sentences to makes a convincing case against child labor, alluding it to be a death sentence.
The poetess Elizabeth Burge has uses short simple statements, numbered sequentially to launch an attack on the sleeping consciousness of the reader. Devoid though it is of euphemisms’, to the point of being blunt, she instead uses imagery to graphically describe the morbid and inhumane conditions of the children, in such an effective manner as, so as to shock the sensibilities of the most complacent readers . In my personal opinion, to put it as crisply as Elizabeth Burge herself, her poem more than makes the point !
The poetess conveys her strong feelings against the employment of minor children in the Persian carpet manufacturing industry. Using words that conjure up stark images, she stirs a range of emotional reactions, in the reader. With amazingly few words, she paints the tragic lives of the children, and plucks the heartstrings of the reader, as she portrays the sadness and hopelessness of their innocent lives, and causes us to feel deep anger and disgust at these young lives being wasted away. Each point on the list is itself very precise, accurate, and simply worded. In the portion of the poem reproduced below , the enjambment in line 23 continues into line 24, and pauses in line 25, and the new sentence beginning in 25 pauses in line 27 helps the words penetrates the readers psyche, like an arrow.
These verbal arrows explode in the readers mind and create a visual pictures of, the gross injustice to helpless children, who are robbed not only of their childhood, but of healthy lives, by long hours of confinement in dark dingy workshops, shackled by poverty of their families and abandoned ,perform long hours of extremely difficult work that sicken and weaken their bodies and restrict their growth. This picture causes a well of emotions such as shock and disgust to rise in the hearts of the reader.
This is a preview of the whole essay
“Shadowing the makers of the webs.
Eight-year-old girls sit spar rowed on a plank
Rope-rising with the pattern, their unsupported bird-bones
Bent like old women. Only such little fingers,
Following the guides of colored wool upon the warp
Left by their aunts and sisters,
Can tie such exquisitely minute knots –
One hundred to the square centimeter, says the guide proudly-”
Her reference to “gallows, silent, sallow” and deployment of similes such as “ bird-bones”, “little fingers”, creates the disturbing images and emotions, she brings forth in us, as she educates us just how fragile and weakened from the work in the dark environs of the workshop, of the bodies of the young girls working on the carpet are. She also uses the metaphor of “old women” to create a sad picture of how burdened, strained and deformed the tiny bodies of these little eight year old girls are, by describing them as “bent like old women”.
The phrase also conveys the damaging effects on the health of the children from that the long hours of laborious work of tying intricate knots of silken ropes in the dark cramped smoky environs of the cave like workshop.
With the lines “Left by their aunts and sisters” she directs our thoughts to the difficulties of the families of these little girls, referring sympathetically to their suffering and abject poverty that has caused them to be abandoned or sold to the factories, by their relatives. This entire thought arises in our minds by the enjambment of this sentence; as it hangs in the air, conveys unspoken the desperate situation of the families and the little girls. We are haunted by the specter of grief and hopelessness of both, the little girls and usually caring and protective relatives, aunts and sisters who are forced to do this horrible act of abandoning their tiny vulnerable young children.
In the poem, the poetess uses the persona of a boastful, insensitive guide, to mouth the words “One hundred knots in the space of my thumb nail” to convey both, the unimaginable insensitivity and inhumane attitude of the vested interests, who profit by exploiting the little girls, such as the guides, and simultaneously, emphasizes the great suffering endured by the incredibly hard and difficult job that these children are required to do. This sentence also exposes the callousness of people everywhere, who revel the exquisiteness of such carpets created by the profiteers, people by their exploitation of little children.
The poetess helps us to see this paradox of human nature, as depicted by the behavior of the guide in the poem. I personally felt amazement and horror, at the degree of numbness and blindness that self-interest can possibly generate turning us into cruel inhumane beings. Even as the guide is knowledgeable and boast of the exquisiteness and fine work done by the children, he completely fails to acknowledge the cruelty and hardship they endure in the process. His conscience is asleep, while his intellect alone seeps awake. Here the poetess I feel is alerting us to the dangers and threats of those with alert minds but sleeping conscience.
With the denouement “One hundred hours for the space a foot will crush down”, she skillfully illustrates the shocking reality and the purposelessness of the activity of Persian carpet weaving , which is possible only at the cost of robbing the little girls of their childhood and health. These lines shock and awaken the reader to the gross injustice done to the little children by profiteers like the weaves who make, the guides who promote and the wealthy people, who buy the carpets crafted by little girls – by effectively forcing them to grow bent and age prematurely from the rigors of their hard labor.
Elizabeth Burge, masterfully conveys the pathos of the huge efforts of the children, in vain, as no matter how much they might work their efforts will be fruitless as their dreams and aspirations along with their hard work is put to the ground. “Traditional beauty! Here I feel the poetess laments and exposing the irony by emphasizing the ugliness and cruelty the fine and beautiful carpets bring in the lives of the little minor children.
The children know they have no hope and are aware they have no means to escape from this life of unending hardship is conveyed by the closing lines of the poem in which the poet, who reveals herself to be an elderly woman, Tells us that the “Large eyes”, of the girl which should otherwise symbolize innocence and hope, tell the poet that the sprit of hope has been snuffed out as the child knows that for her life her eyes would see nothing beyond the carpet “Eyes whose whole horizon is the carpet”. “
In order to express the morbid lives of the hapless poverty shackled child laborers in the poem, the poet metamorphic ally uses the word gallows to like the lives of the children to prisoners on the death row or living out a death sentence, the poetess has
used certain words in every area achieving a dark and silent atmosphere. “By silent, sallow, dark-eyed…” the poet helps us obtain an understanding of the family. ‘Silent’ puts forth the idea that they are barely alive and deprived of sprit or power of speech and emphasizes their de- humanization, ; it could also cold be interpreted to demonstrate their concentration of their work and their determination to reach their goal. In any case I feel that the poet has used ‘Silent’ to describe the behavior of young children to show how unnatural and eerie that behavior is for little girls of this age group , and these words do crate an unsettling uncomfortable feeling in the reader and particularly gives me a spooky feeling. ‘Sallow’ conjures up the picture of a pale bloodless unhealthy and deprived diseased body;
‘Dark-eyed’ connotes the absence of hope or joy, and the loss of innocence. In line 4, ‘A flickering fire’ is associated with a flame that’s in its dying throes, and is used here by the poet creates a the impression of the life and sprit ebbing out of the little children working, in the cold and dark and unhealthy smoky conditions .
Lines 18 – 20 talks about the carpet in reference to the girls. ‘O, eyes whose whole horizon is the carpet’ this tells us that for the girls, their whole world is the carpet. As if that’s all they know. The expression ‘Traditional beauty!’ could mean two things, either in reference to the carpets or the girls. In reference to the carpets they would mean their authentic and traditional style is beautiful. But this also highlights the irony and tragedy and cruelty of the beautiful traditional carpets that are created at the cost of the traditional beauty of the young child laborers. . I feel that through the line “Who can unravel the worlds weaving?” the Poetess is referring to the way the world has tied and knotted up the lives of children for its own selfish ends, and vested interests, in particular with the words “worlds weaving referring to the vested interests and profiteers like the guide, who gain from keeping this tradition and system of making carpets using child labor a thriving industry. This also indicates to me that the girls do such a brilliant and exquisite job that their lives have been knotted into the carpets that are so sought after and famous that they have no escape.
With just four simple sentences,
“One hundred to the square centimeter, says the guide proudly –
For the most desired Tabriz or Kermanshah.
One hundred knots in the space of my thumb-nail,
One hundred heart-beats of a young child’s growing,
One hundred hours for the space a foot will crush down.”
The poetess jolts ones sleeping consciousness to wakefulness by highlighting stark immorality of creating of products of the greatest luxury, such as the finest carpets of such excellence for feet of the wealthy. Requiring such difficult workmanship, through the exploitation of poor helpless little girls, and at the cost of their health and lives scores of child laborers subject to utter poverty and living in abject dark unhealthy hearths. By people to the little workers who are deprived of and in itself, enlightens the reader of the poem, as exhaustively as a picture would.
The poetess Elizabeth Burge describes the conditions of children in a Persian carpet weaving workshop. She very rationally unfolds the scene in the workshop, uses a list of points to communicate her message., With this unusual even, simple structure, she uses a very rational approach and simple words to achieve very effectively what every poet would want to achieve – the unlocking of the heart and sprit of the reader and the transforming his mind set.
The simplicity of the structure and direct observations and facts presented like bullets, using simple statements is a style that delivers the poets message with power and punch, leaving the reader shocked , enlighten and changed forever.