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The Map of the World Confused with Its Territory

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In a drawer I found a map of the world,
folded into eighths and then once again
and each country bore the wrong name because
the map of the world is an orphanage.

The edges of the earth had a margin
as frayed as the hem of the falling night
and a crease moved down toward the center of
the earth, halving the identical stars.

Every river ran with its thin blue
brother out from the heart of a country:
there cedars twisted toward the southern sky
and reeds plumed eastward like an augur’s pens.

No dates on the wrinkles of that broad face,
no slow grinding of mountains and sand, for—
all at once, like a knife on a whetstone—
the map of the world spoke in snakes and tongues.

The hard-topped roads of the western suburbs
and the distant lights of the capitol
each pull away from the yellowed beaches
and step into the lost sea of daybreak.

The map of the world is a canvas turning
away from the painter’s ink-stained hands
while the pigments cake in their little glass
jars and the brushes grow stiff with forgetting.

There is no model, shy and half-undressed,
no open window and flickering lamp,
yet someone has left this sealed blue letter,
this gypsy’s bandana on the darkening

Table, each corner held down by a conch
shell. What does the body remember at
dusk? That the palms of the hands are a map
of the world, erased and drawn again and

Again, then covered with rivers and earth.




Susan Stewart, “The Map of the World Confused with Its Territory” from The Hive. Copyright © 1987 by Susan Stewart. Reprinted with the permission of The University of Georgia Press.
Source: The Hive (University of Georgia Press, 1987)
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The Map of the World Confused with Its Territory

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