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That the Science of Cartography Is Limited

That the Science of Cartography Is Limited

by Eavan Boland

Wisdom and Knowledge Theme

What do we know about knowing? A lot, thanks to this poem, "That the Science of Cartography is Limited." It's all about Irish history, but maybe even more importantly, it's about how people can know, understand, and even inhabit that history. It focuses on two main ways we know stuff, and how these ways relate to each other. First, there's our sensory experience of the world around us. Second, there's the type of knowledge that we get from history books. Which of these ways is "better"? Well, that's up for you to decide. Certainly, history books represent history; they are not direct experiences. So the poem really calls into question how we choose to represent and pass on our experiences to future generations. If the science of cartography is limited—and it is—what other forms or representations of knowledge are more accurate?

Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

  1. What faults does the speaker find with the science of cartography? 
  2. Does the speaker offer up alternatives to cartography? Does the speaker of the poem think that there are other ways to more accurately represent the world? 
  3. Why is understanding the past important to the speaker? 
  4. How does the speaker create and represent knowledge of her people's history? 
  5. Is there a sense of national or collective knowledge of history in the poem? Or is knowledge primarily a personal endeavor or experience?

Chew on This

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

Cartography may fail the speaker, but she seems to think poetry is a pretty spiffy way of representing a nation's history… in a personal way.

Sensory and experiential learning are sometimes more valuable than the type of knowledge that comes from books and maps.

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