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That the Science of Cartography Is Limited

That the Science of Cartography Is Limited


by Eavan Boland

Lines 24-28 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

but to tell myself again that

the line which says woodland and cries hunger
and gives out among sweet pine and cypress,
and finds no horizon

will not be there.

  • Aw shucks, Eavan, we've got a lump in our Shmoopy throats. The end of this poem just slays us.
  • The speaker tells us that she takes out maps to look at them not to admire the feat of map-making, but to "tell [her]self again" that the famine roads don't exist on maps. That the maps don't accurately represent Ireland's landscape, a landscape that does reflect the nation's tragic history… in ways maps don't. Or can't.
  • It's also important to note that she refers to the famine road as a "line." That's all it is. It's useless. Famine roads start and end nowhere useful.
  • The speaker personifies the famine road, giving it human capabilities: it "says woodland" and "cries hunger." It takes on the voices of those who died, senselessly, while building it. Then the famine road "gives out." It trails off into the forest, among the cypress trees. It never reaches the horizon, because its builders died before it could reach that far.
  • You can't take famine roads to get from one town to another. They're not useful, so they're not represented by cartographers. The nation's history "will not be there" on maps of Ireland, then.
  • The poem ends by returning to the cypress tree, suggesting that the poem is, itself, an act of mourning. An expression of grief. See, this poem is a refusal to forget Ireland's tragic history, which is literally built into the nation's landscape… but not into its maps.
  • And since famine roads are not represented on maps of Ireland, Boland represents them—and the whole tragedy of the potato famine—in her poetry.
  • We think the speaker proves her hypothesis: that the science of cartography is limited. But what remains limitless is Boland's poetry.

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