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That the Science of Cartography Is Limited

That the Science of Cartography Is Limited


by Eavan Boland

That the Science of Cartography Is Limited Theme of Memory and the Past

If only we could remember what this theme is about… Just kidding. "That the Science of Cartography is Limited" is very focused on memory. Not just personal memory, as in, remembering what you ate for breakfast yesterday (Fruit Loops? Cap'n Crunch?), but also cultural, historical, and political memory. As the poem progresses, we are led to question the ways in which we preserve all of these memories. We learn that the story of the Irish Potato Famine, for example, does not reside in maps. But it does live in one boyfriend's headplace, in the speaker's thoughts, and, in the Irish landscape itself. So, Boland is concerned not just with our memories of what happened in the past (like, how your dad used to have to walk to school three miles uphill in the snow), but also with the ways we choose to preserve and represent our shared experiences.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How does the poem represent the intersection of personal and historical memory? 
  2. Are maps always ill equipped to represent the past? How might a map more accurately represent Ireland's history? 
  3. Does the poem offer any alternatives to cartography as a means of representation? 
  4. Does the poem seem to be about one woman's experience of her nation's past, or do you think that Boland is trying to say something about contemporary Irish people more broadly?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

This poem is highly personal and individual. It's about one woman's encounter with her nation's past.

The poem offers up poetry as an alternative to cartography as a means of representation.

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