ArticleTo celebrate April as National Poetry Month, here are some poems hidden on maps in our collections.
April is National Poetry Month! You may not immediately put maps and poems in the same category, but both are mediums rich with meaning. There are many, many poems I love that are about maps, cartography, or map-related themes – on borders, boundaries, travel, or discovery of new lands and identities.
But what about poems on maps? It just so happens that many of the maps in our collection have poems inscribed on them, in legends, around borders, and hidden away in overlooked corners. We find them primarily on pictorial maps, and the poems are mainly by men from the 20th century literary cannon, but the maps they are on cover a wide geographic range. See below for some fun examples of poems on maps in our collections, which we found with a little digging and some keen eyesight.
This pictorial map of London was originally published in 1914 as an advertising poster for the London Underground. The design became very popular with the public and was published in several different editions. It is credited with reviving Tube travel as well as inspiring “Wonderland” maps in other cities, and influencing pictorial mapmaking in the twentieth century.
At the very top of this map, you can find several stanzas from the famous poem The Tyger by William Blake. This map also contains several excerpts from children’s books and nursery rhymes, as well as a plethora of puns about different places in London, like this reference to hurling hams in Hurlingham – how many can you spot?!
This colorful map is of the Cape Peninsula in South Africa. Right in the center of the map we see the lines “White as sand of Muizenberg / Spun before the Gale…” attributed to Rudyard Kipling. This line is from his 1895 poem The Flowers. Muizenberg is a beach town in the Western Cape – Kipling spent time in South Africa and Cape Town, and this poem is consistent with his theme of writing works about the British Empire and during the era of colonial rule.
It’s not surprising that this pictorial map of New York City contains at least one poem, since it’s published by the Washington Square Bookshop.
Not only does it contain a unique poem wrapping around the border of the map (“Here is a map to give you pleasure / a town reduced to your mantel’s measure / city of gayety, city of gold / your Bagdad on Hudson, three hundred years old”), it also contains the entirety of the (very short) poem Parting at Morning by Robert Browning, an English poet of the Victorian period. The map also displays excerpts from children’s books, verses from songs, and other humorous tidbits.
Here’s one for our friends up at the Osher Map Library in Portland, Maine. “Often I think of the beautiful town / that is seated by the sea…” This stanza about a town by the sea appears on a 1928 map of Portland, Maine. The line is from the poem My Lost Youth by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who spent his childhood in Portland – he was born there in 1807, when it was still a part of Massachusetts!
Finally, as we look toward summer weather and weekend beach days, here’s an original poem featured on this delightful 1940 pictorial map of Cape Cod. It’s presumably written by the creator of the map, illustrator Paul Paige of East Brewster, and reads:
If you have ever been there, this map is meant for you
To help recall some happy days beside the ocean blue;
Or you can send it to a friend, that they perhaps may see,
Why people love good old Cape Cod, and go there constantly.
Do you have a poem that is about maps, geography, or your favorite place? Tweet us at @bplmaps!
P.S. See more “Poems as Maps” in Places Journal here.
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