Temple near Quang Tri, Not on the Map Analysis

Bruce Weigl

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Weigl very carefully chooses a series of images to describe the temple in the jungle. The cumulative effect of the images is to render the temple inscrutable and hidden. For example, in the first stanza, the ivy covers the outside of the temple thickly. Hidden within the ivy are sparrows. In a very potent image, the birds’ wings become “calligraphy.” Calligraphy, artistic or creative handwriting, both reveals and hides the meaning of the words it renders. The image, then, is an early clue that the temple is not necessarily as it appears. The ivy is also “thick in the grottoes.” A grotto is a structure that appears to be a cave but is really of human construction. As the jungle hides the Viet Cong and their tunnels, so too does the ivy hide the sparrows and the temple.

Further sacred images appear in the second stanza, when the Americans make their way to the interior of the temple. The objects the Americans handle have little meaning for them. They search the objects for evidence of the enemy, but the stone faces reveal nothing. The Americans search the entire temple, declaring it clean. Weigl plays on the word “clean” here. On the one hand, the Americans view the area as secure, clean of enemy contamination. To the Vietnamese, the temple is clean in the sense that it is a place of prayer and holiness; soon it will be clean of the American presence as well.

Two important auditory images contribute to the contrasting depictions of...

(The entire section is 475 words.)