Sarojini Naidu’s ‘Indian Weavers‘ portrays the titular weavers making three different garments, each one embodying a period of human life. The poem thereby engages with themes of art, life and the inevitability of the passage of time.
‘Indian Weavers‘ explores the finite nature of human life through a series of woven garments.
The poem begins by describing how the weavers made blue clothes for a newborn child in the first light of the morning. The second stanza goes on to outline how they made green and purple marriage veils in the late evening before the final stanza focuses on the white shroud they wove at night to adorn a corpse at their funeral. Thus the poem spans the entire cycle of a day, as well as the entire span of human life.
You can read the full poem here.
Sarojini Naidu was born in Hyderabad in what was British India in 1879. Educated in both India and England, she went on to become a crucial voice in the movement for Indian independence as well as a respected poet and advocate for women’s rights. By the time of her death in 1949, she had served as a politician in India and become known as the ‘Nightingale of India’ for her poetry. ‘Indian Weavers‘ is taken from her first full-length collection, The Golden Threshold, which was published in 1905.
Weavers, weaving at break of day,
Why do you weave a garment so gay? . . .
Blue as the wing of a halcyon wild,
We weave the robes of a new-born child.
The poem symbolically begins at dawn to represent the new life of the child whose robes are woven first. However, there is a degree of irony as, while this poem arbitrarily begins at this point, it quickly becomes clear that the weavers are actually working in a cycle, seemingly without beginning or end. The use of the rhetorical question instigates a shift in poetic voice, as the final two lines are the response of the weavers. The use of the simile to liken the clothes to the color of a bird’s wing is significant because birds have connotations of freedom and potential. This is fitting as the clothes are for a newborn child whose whole life is ahead of them.
Weavers, weaving at fall of night,
We weave the marriage-veils of a queen.
The use of the refrain “weavers, weaving” at the outset of each stanza reminds the reader that the process of weaving is one based on repetition and years of mastery. Once again, the poet uses a simile to evoke the image of a bird, this time a peacock. Given the fact peacocks are famed for their beautiful feathers, this description could be intended to convey the beauty of the garment the weavers are making. This is appropriate given the fact it is intended to be worn at a wedding. However, peacocks are also less mobile birds than halcyons and are more reluctant to fly. This could reflect the fact that the wearers of the clothes are older and less unburdened than children.
Weavers, weaving solemn and still,
We weave a dead man’s funeral shroud.
Naidu uses sibilance in the opening line of this stanza to lend the line a sinister quality, possibly to mirror the fact that this item is to be worn by a corpse. The moonlight also functions as a pathetic fallacy, given the stanza is concerned with death and the symbolic dying of the light of life. Similarly, this time the simile refers only to a feather rather than a live bird. This reinforces the lack of vitality and juxtaposes the earlier association with living birds. Furthermore, the adjective “white” further emphasizes the connection to death, as the absence of color mirrors the loss of life and energy.
The poem is written in three quatrains with an AABB rhyme scheme. This consistent structure serves to create an unerring sense of permanence which reflects the seemingly constant process of weaving. However, it also reminds the reader of the absolute certainty of aging and, eventually, of death.
The birds are important as they reflect the stages of life that the poet associates them with. The possibility of youth is evoked by the image of the halcyon; the wonder of marriage mirrored in the beauty of a peacock and eventual death conjured by the absence of a bird, save for a single white feather.
The poem is largely hopeful in its tone, despite dealing with issues around human mortality. Rather than lingering on loss, the poem presents death as just another stage in the wonder that is human existence and chooses to focus on the cyclical nature of beauty instead.
The message of the poem appears to be that we should cherish life, for it is ultimately brief. This brevity need not be sad, though, as each individual life forms part of the metaphorical fabric of human experience.
A halcyon is a tropical kingfisher native to Asia and Africa with striking and brightly colored plumage. It is also a mythical creature, said to have the power to calm the sea and wind during a storm.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Indian Weavers‘ might want to explore other Sarojini Naidu poems. For example:
- ‘In the Bazaars of Hyderabad‘ – Naidu conjures the humming energy of the market in her birthplace.
- ‘The Gift of India‘ – A tribute to Indian soldiers who died fighting with the British in WWI.
Some other poems that may be of interest include:
- ‘Carpet-weavers, Morocco‘ by Carol Rumens – Another poem that explores the connection between weaving and life.
- ‘The One Who Goes Away‘ by Sujata Bhatt – A moving exploration of what it means to be home.