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Themes

There's no doubt about it: "That the Science of Cartography is Limited" is an Irish poem. It's written by an Irish poet, it's about Ireland's history, and it takes place in the countryside of that awesome isle. We might argue, too, that the poem is about what it means to be Irish: what it means to understand a nation's history, and how that history affects the present. While the poem isn't explicitly about emigration from Ireland, we bet that more than a few of you Shmoopers have some Irish blood, and that a good portion of you guys have an ancestor or two who fled from Ireland during the famine in the 1840s. This poem isn't out to teach you a history lesson, but it does ask those of you with a connection to Ireland to think about how its history informs who you are, and how you got to be where you are today. But remember: the Irish Potato Famine was just one event in Ireland's history. There's a lot more to being Irish than potatoes (or a lack thereof). Just ask our pal James Joyce.

Questions About Visions of Ireland

  1. How much of Ireland's history do you need to know to understand this poem? What did you learn about Ireland's history by reading it?
  2. What kind of portrait does the poem paint of contemporary Irish people? Does it make an overarching claim about the relationship between the nation's past and present? 
  3. If you were writing an American "version" of this poem, what national tragedy might you choose to discuss, in order to explore the relationship between this nation's present and the past?

Chew on This

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

The poem suggests that Irish people don't know how to move past the tragedies of their past.

The poem's narrow view of Irish history leaves a lot out, and doesn't accurately represent the richness of Ireland's past.

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