Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Where they died, there the road ended
and ends still and when I take down
the map of this island, it is never so
I can say here is
the masterful, the apt rendering of
the spherical as flat, nor
an ingenious design which persuades a curve
into a plane,
- So after all these facts and figures comes a big moment: "where they died, there the road ended." This line is isolated. It's the only line of a one-line stanza, so it carries a lot of weight.
- When we read this line, we can't help but pause and take it all in. People died building this road that's right in front of the speaker. And where they died, the road ended. The road only existed to provide them work. And by using words like "there," it's almost like the speaker transports us right to the scene with her. We see what she sees.
- Then the next stanza snaps us back into the present. The speaker is not in Connacht now, but is in the present moment thinking about maps in general. Yet, we know that the road ended "where they died" and it ends there "still." 150 years later, the landscape tells the story of those who died in the Irish Potato Famine.
- The speaker tells us that she never looks at maps to admire them anymore. She admits that they're "masterful"; they are pretty amazing in that they render a 3D world on a flat plane. They take advantage of science and math and all that good stuff in the way they represent the world.
- There's a little list forming here, as the speaker enumerates all of the awesome things that maps do, but we know that this list is not why she looks at the map of "this island" (which, in case you need a little reminder, is Ireland itself).
- And let's not forget the form of the poem here. Notice all those weird line breaks that come in the middle of phrases? For example, "the masterful, the apt rendering of / the spherical as flat, nor"? These line breaks are called enjambments. They split up the natural phrases that occur in the poem, and give it a fragmented feeling.
- So the form is echoing the content here (nice work, Ms. Boland). The map gives us an incomplete view of the land—and the phrases of the poem are similarly imperfect and fragmented.
- The map may be "masterful," "apt," and "ingenious," but Boland reminds us through her fragmented form that it is still incomplete. Some things, like the famine roads, have managed to elude even "masterful" cartographic representation.