Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Eavan Boland - That the the Science of Cartography is Limited...

This was something I originally posted on my (crap) blog Strange Weather:

I thought that this would be a nice starting point to open up a discussion on representing landscapes. This poem in particular strikes me as a good entry point in which to tackle ideas of multiple, overlapping interpritations of the same space. A video version of Boland reading the poem is availiable

That the the Science of Cartography is Limited...
   -and not simply by the fact that this shading of
forest cannot show the fragrance of balsam,
the gloom of cypresses
is what I wish to prove.

When you and I were first in love we drove
to the borders of Connacht
and entered a wood there.

Look down you said: this was once a famine road.

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.

Where they died, there the road ended

and ends still and when I take down
the map of this island, it is never so
I can say here is
the masterful, the apt rendering of

the spherical as flat, nor
an ingenious design which persuades a curve
into a plane,
but to tell myself again that
the line which says woodland and cries hunger
and gives out among sweet pine and cypress,
and finds no horizon

will not be there.

Boland's exploration of the political implications of the map is poigniantly explored by digging deeper into the landscape. By uncovering hidden paths and lost histories she undermines any official history, revealing a colonial supression of these events. Boland writes an informative assesment of the poem In an essay published in Literary Review:

"I was certainly aware, long before I wrote this poem, that the act of mapmaking is an act of power and that I--as a poet, as a woman and as a witness to the strange Irish silences which met that mixture of identities--was more and more inclined to contest those acts of power. The official version-and a map is rarely anything else--might not be suspect as it discovered territories and marked out destinations. But the fact that these roads, so powerful in their meaning and so powerless at their origin, never showed up on any map of Ireland seemed to me then, as it does now, both emblematic and ironic."

Boland acts to reinscribe the map, taking action and drawing attention to a history of forgotton individuals - something painfully symbolised in the unfinished paths. By uncovering the lost famine roads, Boland gives voice to the silenced, it is a brave reclaiming of history, and contributes to an ongoing post-colonial practice of re-examining historical validity. This can be seen a lot in Boland's poetry - particularly in the collection from which this poem comes:
In a Time of Violence (1995). Readers may also want to look at The Dolls Museum in Dublin and In a Bad Light from the same collection.

No comments:

Post a Comment