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The Map Analysis

Author: poem of Elizabeth Bishop Type: poem Views: 7

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Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.

Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges

showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges

where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.

Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,

drawing it unperturbed around itself?

Along the fine tan sandy shelf

is the land tugging at the sea from under?

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.

Labrador's yellow, where the moony Eskimo

has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,

under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,

or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.

The names of seashore towns run out to sea,

the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains

--the printer here experiencing the same excitement

as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.

These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger

like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,

lending the land their waves' own conformation:

and Norway's hare runs south in agitation,

profiles investigate the sea, where land is.

Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?

--What suits the character or the native waters best.

Topography displays no favorites; North's as near as West.

More delicate than the historians' are the map-makers' colors.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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“The Map” is a descriptive poem divided into three stanzas. The first and last are eight-line stanzas with repeated Petrarchan rhyme schemes (abbacddc), while the longer central stanza is written in free verse.
In “The Map,” Elizabeth Bishop records her thoughts on the nature of a map’s relationship to the real world. Implicitly, the poem asks why maps fascinate people so much. The poet suggests that the human fascination with small-scale representations of land and water has to do with the imagined worlds maps can offer, the images of far-off people and places that maps can bring to mind. “The Map” celebrates the mapmaker’s (or poet’s) power to create illusion and fantasy as well as new ways of looking at what is real. The poem begins with shapes and colors—what most people first notice about maps. For example, land is “shadowed green,” and it “lies in water,” which is blue. Here, however, all certainty ends, and a series of provocative but unanswered questions begins. The poet sees “Shadows,” not sure if they are “shallows.” Also uncertain is whether the line on the paper indicates the land’s edges or “long sea-weeded ledges.”
On first looking at the map, the poet sees water surrounding and supporting land. The second half of the first stanza, however, suggests a relationship between the land and the sea that is mysterious and unexpected. The land is active—it seems to lean, lift, and draw the water around itself. The poet asks, “is the land tugging at the sea from under?” Because these questions go unanswered, the reader begins to understand that not everyone interprets a map the same way.
In the long central stanza, the map receives the close inspection for which Bishop’s poetry is well known. Newfoundland (perhaps “new found land”) suggests that the imagination can create new territory, new realities. In Labrador, “yellow, where the moony Eskimo/ has oiled it,” the dreamer, the “moony” imaginer, paints the land to suit her vision of it. Stroking the lovely bays “under a glass as if they were expected to blossom” suggests the map’s magical quality as well as its aesthetic beauty. Perhaps “blossom” suggests how one’s expectations grow while studying a map.
Examining that relationship further, the poet suggests in stanza 3 that the “waves’ own conformation” is what determines the shape of the land, rather than the land’s outlines determining how far the water lies. The poet sees Norway running south in the shape of a hare, and then, getting back to the art of cartography, casually wonders, “Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?” These three observations suggest questions of perspective. For example, how one sees an object—such as this map—is a very personal experience. The poet’s (unrevealed) conclusions are her own; there are no definitive answers, no “favorites.”
That is why the cartographer’s representations and use of tools, records, and perceptions are “More delicate than the historians’.” The historian attempts to deal with facts, and chronologies of events, objectively. Although she dares not distort truth, the mapmaker, unlike the historian, deals with possibilities imaginatively, for the artist celebrates the notion that to be completely objective is impossible.

| Posted on 2014-01-23 | by a guest

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