Carol Rumens’ ‘Carpet-weavers, Morocco‘ simultaneously explores the sense of wonder and awe while also shining a light on child exploitation around the world. The poem, and the carpets made by the children, are examples of how incongruous it can be when beautiful things are born out of mistreatment and pain.
‘Carpet-weavers, Morocco‘ examines the lives and experiences of children who are sent out to work by following the journey of the things they make.
The poem begins by describing the children at work where they make carpets. Rumens focuses on broad descriptions of their hair, clothes, and heights rather than describing any individuals in particular. As the poem progresses, Rumens’ attention shifts to the carpets themselves and speculates as to where they will end up before returning to the children in the final stanza. These final lines are concerned with the children more broadly as the poet ponders their future prospects.
You can read the full poem here.
Carol Rumens is a British poet who was born in London in 1944. In a long and varied career, she has published poems, novels, plays, and works of non-fiction. Her oeuvre is broad and lacks a single narrative thread as her interests have evolved over the decades in which she has been publishing work.
Having traveled widely, Rumens’ experiences of different environments and customs have influenced her work enormously. As a developing nation, the prevalence of child labor in Morocco is more common than in more economically developed countries.
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.
Rumens begins the poem using a metaphor to describe the children “at the loom of another world.” This could have been intended to emphasize the differences between Morocco and the UK, where child labor is illegal. However, it could also be intended to showcase how, despite many readers’ aversion to child labor, they are able to create amazing and beautiful fabrics which seem almost mystical.
Rumens juxtaposes the darkness of the children’s hair with the bright colors of their clothes as a microcosm of the poem’s central concern- there is both beauty and vitality alongside mistreatment and darkness. This notion is further reinforced by the reference to how the children could create a “melodious chime” which again speaks to the beauty and creativity that can emerge from unexpected places, even when there is pain and unfair treatment.
They watch their flickering knots like television.
Then they will lace the dark-rose veins of the tree-tops.
The second stanza begins with a simile that likens the children’s work to watching television, an activity that children in more affluent nations would likely be more familiar with. Rumens thereby reminds the reader that their perception of what is normal is actually very specific to them and their environment and is certainly not something they can universally apply.
The reference to Islam is the first sign that the carpet will have some religious function, yet it also conflates the act of making the carpet with worship and devotion. Rumens could be using this reference to suggest that, through artistic creation, a person can become closer to the divine. Finally, the personification of the tree tops in the fabric imbues the carpet with life, further emphasizing the talent of the children who made it.
The carpet will travel in the merchant’s truck.
Deep and soft, it will give when heaped with prayer.
The repetition of the word “will” suggests a degree of certainty concerning the eventual destination of the carpet once it is finished. It could be said that certainty is a pleasant, comfortable presence as it suggests familiarity and consistency. However, the unwavering nature of the description could also imply that the children are trapped in a system that they cannot influence. The use of sibilance in the second line evokes a sinister atmosphere to support this interpretation, as it reinforces the notion that the workers are being exploited.
The children are hard at work in the school of days.
and freeze into the frame of all-that-was.
Rumens’ decision to refer to the “school of days” rather than the more common formulations ‘school-day’ or ‘day at school’ is significant. It implies that they are learning from the days themselves, as though the passage of time is their only teacher because they are working rather than actually attending school. The final two lines metaphorically situate the children at the epicenter of the passage of time, where they seemingly craft the future by permanently affixing it to the fabric. This incongruous ending creates an unsettling effect on the reader, who is unsure whether they ought to be outraged by the treatment of these children or impressed by their achievements. Ultimately, Rumens’ poem encourages the reader to feel both.
The poem is written in four tercets which, save for the penultimate line, feature end-stopped lines. This consistent and symmetrical structure mirrors the intricate geometric patterns that likely adorn the carpets being woven by the children.
A loom is a device that weaves threads together to form cloth or a tapestry. There have been many designs throughout history and across cultures. Weaving can be a difficult skill that takes years to truly master.
The poem resists offering a single message. Initially, it appears that the poem will condemn the treatment of the children outright, but as it continues, the poet’s attitude becomes harder to reduce to that single reading. While there is certainly a sense that the poet feels the children are being taken advantage of, she cannot help but admire the beauty of their creations.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Carpet-weavers, Morocco‘ might want to explore other Carol Rumens poems. For example:
- ‘The Émigrée‘ – A poem that explores the refugee experience and the process of unraveling memories.
Some other poems that may be of interest include:
- ‘The Chimney Sweeper‘ by William Blake – Another poem that explores child labor, this time in the first person.
- ‘The Child Who Was Shot Dead by Soldiers in Nyanga‘ by Ingrid Jonker – A famous poem that explores inequality and challenges the future to be better.