Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Map. Appropriately enough, the explorations of North and South begin with an examination of a map. In “The Map,” the first poem of the collection, the speaker examines a map of the North Atlantic area. The map is tangible evidence to her of the riddles of human perception, whereby she sees real things as if they were symbolic and—more important in the poem—understands symbols as if they were real. The poem begins with a question of perception: How can the map, which is flat, represent something as three-dimensional as land and ocean? The second stanza offers examples of how the speaker (and, by implication, anyone) can translate the abstractions of a map into the vivid, sensual perceptions to which her understanding is attached. The speaker imagines peninsulas as women’s fingers, feeling the water between them as women’s fingers would feel cloth. In her imagination, the lines on the paper are like women’s fingers. This simile is presented simply as the means by which people make symbols understandable. This poem argues one of Bishop’s central themes about place—people understand it only as much as they experience it with their senses.


Paris. Capital of France and ostensible setting of Bishop’s poem titled “Paris, 7 a.m.” Its speaker draws general conclusions from the immediate particulars of her environment, as she wanders from room to room setting clocks in an apartment. She...

(The entire section is 553 words.)