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That the Science of Cartography Is Limited

That the Science of Cartography Is Limited


by Eavan Boland

Lines 9-12 Summary

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

I looked down at ivy and the scutch grass
rough-cast stone had
disappeared into as you told me
in the second winter of their ordeal, in

1847, when the crop had failed twice,
Relief Committees gave
the starving Irish such roads to build.

  • While you're all knowledgeable about the famine roads now (you're welcome), it turns out that our speaker was not so well informed. In these lines, the speaker tells us that her beloved explained the history of the famine roads to her.
  • What's interesting is that while the speaker notices the physical land—the ivy and the grass covering the stone—her boyfriend's all about dates, numbers, and other official info. He knows the important dates (such as 1847) in the political history of the famine, while she's just discovering the famine road for herself. Like, "look, there it is."
  • And the road itself is a bit hidden; the "rough-cast stone had / disappeared" into the grass. So the speaker has to look hard to see it.
  • We think there's a distinction being set up here between the separation of the sensory experience of the world, and the history of that world. The speaker sees stones and grass, while her beloved sees history in terms of abstract facts: names, dates, and so on.
  • So the poem smacks us over the head with two ways of knowing the world: through the senses (remember the "fragrance of balsam" from the beginning of the poem?), and through "science"— facts, figures, and the like. We can't wait to see these two ways of knowing the world duke it out in the rest of the poem.

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