Bruce Weigl’s poem “Temple near Quang Tri, Not on the Map” is a narrative poem set in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Through the description of a temple and of a “small man” inside it, Weigl creates a tense, tightly woven poetic illustration of an essential misreading of Vietnamese culture and custom. The misreading costs men their lives and costs a nation a war.
The poem consists of thirty-eight lines divided into four stanzas. The title serves to locate the scene as a place “not on the map”; such a statement suggests that the temple is somehow outside the realm of Western understanding. In addition, the title reveals that the setting of the event is a traditional sacred space.
In the first stanza, the narrator, who is a member of a patrol of American soldiers, approaches a Buddhist temple. The time of day is dusk, and there are birds in the ivy climbing the temple wall. The word “ivy” is repeated three times in the first stanza, suggesting that the temple is somehow hidden behind the green vegetation.
The speaker and his group move into the temple in the next stanza, following the lead of the “point man,” the member of the patrol charged with going first in dangerous situations. Once inside, the men handle a variety of sacred objects, including a “white washbowl,” “stone lanterns,” and “carved stone heads.” It is not clear whether or not the men handle the objects with respect. The narrator says...
(The entire section is 479 words.)