In the poem “Ispahan Carpet” written by Elizabeth Burge, readers are exposed to the unending poverty cycle a family of Persian carpet factory workers experience. With each knot the workers tie, their physical health deteriorates, as they lose their identities and innocence, along with any hope whatsoever of escaping their monotonous and painful line of work. Yet despite these growing odds, they manage to produce beautiful and luxurious carpets, which are bought by the wealthy – the wealthy, who unfortunately are oblivious to the working conditions these makers experience, thereby indirectly allowing such shocking circumstances to prevail. Throughout the poem, Burge uses several linguistic and literary techniques such as parallelism, juxtaposition, personification, interjectory, and structure to effectively portray the injustice that occurs in the factories, as she subtly contrasts the extreme wealth of the buyers with the extreme poverty of the carpet makers.Order now
The amount of suffering the family experiences from endlessly tying knots can already be observed in the first stanza, where the carpet factory is described with the metaphor of the “gallows.” Immediately, the reference to the gallows sets a dark and cold atmosphere, as readers start to anticipate a death. This dark atmosphere is heightened by Burge’s use of tripling to describe the Persian family as being, “silent, sallow, dark-eyed,” which places emphasis on each oppressive adjective, and stresses how truly lifeless each member has become. The adjective “sallow” has consonance with “hallow” which further emphasizes the pervading air of death in the factory, as sallow complexions have connotations with sickness, lack of nutrition, and emptiness. Likewise, the family appears to be completely vulnerable – as though all the life has been sucked out of them, and empty – as if they have lost their identities. The “dark eyes” reinforce this point, as they appear to be empty and stolid, as if taken over by another life force.
The darkness of the poem is also portrayed through the lack of color. Plosive alliteration is used to emphasize the prison-like quarters of the factory that is, “bare but for blackened pots.” By using this technique, readers are led to share the same disgust and sympathy Burge feels towards the people who have submitted the family to such working conditions, while the use of conjunction “but” with reference to the color black immediately after, serves to eliminate any source of hope of escaping such oppressive conditions. In contrast, the “flickering fire” provides the only source of color in the room, and is emphasized through use of fricative alliteration, which contrasts with the plosive alliteration of the blackened pots. This technique sheds light on a somewhat sinister aspect of the fire as it illuminates the “sensuous jeweled arabesques” while “shadowing the makers of the webs.” The focus thus revolves around the luxurious carpets, while the family is barely acknowledged for their hard work, and is left locked in the factory to weave more carpets in the dark.
Readers begin to understand how truly saddening the situation is, as the buyers of these carpets seem to solely appreciate its aesthetics, casting a blind eye on the appalling conditions the makers are forced to submit to, allowing themselves to indulge in their luxuries without guilt. Burge directly addresses these buyers with an interjectory, creating a mocking tone to exclaim just how appalled she is at their ignorance: “O, eyes whose whole horizon is the carpet.” She questions their morals, and encourages readers to empathize with her as directs a rhetorical question at the readers, “who can unravel the world’s weaving?”
What is most surprising, are the eight-year-old-girls that age tremendously as a result of the buyers’ ignorance. The girls are innocently introduced as they “sit sparrowed” on the workbenches. Reference to the sparrow suggests several characteristics. Since sparrows are small for instance, the metaphor suggests that the children are vulnerable and weak with fragile bones. They seem bewildered and naï¿½ve – just as an animal would feel within the confinements of a factory. It seems as though children don’t seem to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. Burge writes of how they are trapped “following the guides of colored wool upon the warp left by their aunts and sisters,” which implies that social backgrounds are passed down through generations in the Persian culture. Furthermore, the “warp” may suggest the burden these children have to endure, as their older family members no longer have the hands to untangle the warp. Having said this, the warp is also a metaphor for the inescapable cycle of poverty this family experiences, as the factory job is passed down from generation to generation.
What is even more shocking however, is the irony of that stanza. Burge writes of how the girls would sit “rope -rising with the pattern, their unsupported bird-bones bent like old women.” The “rope-rising” is not only a verb that applies to their carpet tying skills, but it could also be linked to the “hallows” mentioned in the first line of the poem. It seems as though the more the children work and the weaker they get, the higher the rope rises, and the closer they are to their deaths. So, ultimately – they are working towards their deaths. Their innocence is taken away from them and we see them transformed into “old women” as they bend their backs, strain their eyes, and tie knots endlessly each day. Both these metaphor take away all the hope the readers have of these children escaping the carpet factory, and evokes strong feelings of sympathy for the child workers.