Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Maps and references to towns on maps appear in many of Richard Hugo’s poems. Hugo uses maps as anyone may use them: to dream about, move toward, and discover new territory. Thus, many of his poems become word maps for places themselves. Hugo’s poems display psychological and social landscapes, as this poem does for Montana. It is the feel of Montana’s size and natural beauty, its isolation from the rest of the world, its sense of abandonment, and its frontier violence and restlessness that Hugo hopes to survey in “A Map of Montana in Italy,” especially as these are seen from a perspective of relative serenity in the Old World.

Hugo made three important trips to Italy. The first came during World War II, when he served as a bombadier in the Air Force. On the second, in 1963, he obsessively returned to the places he had known during the war. In an essay entitled “Ci Vediamo,” Hugo relates how, centering on the war and the places he had known during the war, he meets an Italian soul mate named Vincenzo, who tells him, “Of all the Americans here during the war, you’re the only one who ever returned.” First Vincenzo bursts into tears, sobbing. Then Hugo responds, matching Vincenzo “sob for strangulated sob.” On his third trip to Italy, from 1967-1968, funded by a Rockefeller Foundation Creative Writing Fellowship, Hugo wrote “A Map of Montana in Italy” and many other poems that went into The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir....

(The entire section is 574 words.)