Song to the Mapmaker (Mp3)
Song to the Mapmaker
You drew the map of my heart
The west, the north, the east, the south
The inner ocean with wild waves
The golden hills, the hidden caves
The roads, the routes, the rambling paths
The castles where you freed my slaves
You are the Great Cosmographer,
The maker of my inner world
The builder of Jerusalem
Above, without, and now within,
Which stands firm at the center
Centered on your great Passion
I see your old wooden Cross
It marks where my treasure lies
And in my memory I hear
Your last words as I draw near—
The Living Water cried, “I thirst”—
Before He broke the Gates of fear
And now I marvel at the Tree
That grafts in the wild olive shoot,
Root of Jesse, Rachel’s King
The ruler of everything
Who takes me toward eternity
Where I hear the angels sing
My compass is for True North
Where no boundary or line
Keeps souls in pain from knowing God
And where every foot is new-shod
With the gospel of the Prince’s peace
On which we stood, fell and trod
I joy, that in these songs I see
A map re-writ with music
A palimpsest for Christ-Jesu
With notes of blood set to woo
The Bride from her chamber closed
To the life of love made new
For who but He can answer me
And hold my heart close to his
And take the map that led away
And make it at last to say
Draw me home to you, my Love
And into the light of day.
About “Song to the Mapmaker”
The poem, “Song to the Mapmaker,” compares God to a map-maker and the human heart to a map. This metaphor is woven into every stanza of the poem, in one way or another, but is transformed in the sixth stanza when the map becomes sheet music. The musical notes are drops of Christ’s blood which compose a love song to “the Bride,” a biblical image which traditionally signifies Israel, Mary, the Church or the individual human soul, but here most probably signifies the poet herself. The concluding stanza ends with the map, that is, the heart, able to “say” (line 40) something, to speak, and that speaking is at once the concluding lines of the poem and the poem itself, entire: an answering song to the love song of Christ.
The first stanza begins, “You drew the map of my heart” (line 1) and in so doing, it establishes the metaphoric framework for the rest of the poem. The second line gives the four directions in an interesting order—first west, then north, east and south—which parallels the poet’s travels up to this point in her life: she grew up in California, on the “west” coast of the United States; traveled “north” as a child to visit her extended family, then “east” to for a variety of reasons (school in Indiana, Europe in summer, Washington, D.C. for work) and finally south, in January 2002 and April 2004, to visit Ghana, West Africa.
The importance of this final destination emerges in the last line of the stanza, “the castles where you freed my slaves.” On the Ghanaian coast, the Portuguese built fortresses where they conducted the business of the slave trade; the remains of these “castles” are still in Ghana today. Although the poet did not visit these fortresses during her first trip to Africa, she did on her second. Interestingly, she reverses the significance of the castles when she uses them metaphorically: while the castles are associated with enslavement (else how could slaves be there?), they are also associated with freedom, because they are where the Mapmaker emancipates the poet’s slaves. What the poet means by “slaves” is unclear–she leaves the tenor for that vehicle unstated–but perhaps she simply refers to those things that were bound in her which God has released.
The second stanza begins by calling God “the Great Cosmographer,” the second of seven metaphorical divine names in the poem, and then credits God with the Creation of three cities of Jerusalem, one above, one “without” or outside and one “within” (line 10). Here the poet builds on the concept invented by Paul in Galatians and developed by Augustine in The City of God, namely that that there is an earthly Jerusalem and a heavenly Jerusalem and the latter is the spiritual home of Christians, by imagining a Jerusalem of the heart. This Jerusalem “stands firm at the center”—presumably the center of the poet’s soul—“centered on your great Passion” (lines 11-12). The repetition of the word “center,” its use as both a noun and a verb, draws special attention to it. We may recall that in medieval maps of the western world, Jerusalem was always placed in the exact center. Indeed, because of its central position, it was often called “the navel of the world.” By imagining an “inner world” (line eight) with Jerusalem at the “center” (line 11), the poet places herself squarely in the medieval tradition of imagining man as a little world, a microcosm that mirrors the macrocosm of the larger world. The poet reveals the center of the center, as it were, when she writes that the Jerusalem of her heart is “centered on” the Passion.
The third stanza is quite simply a meditation on the Passion and the Cross of Christ. It does not immediately appear to relate to the map metaphor which undergirds the rest of the poem unless we look closely at the relationship between the first two lines: “I see your old wooden Cross/It marks where my treasure lies” (lines 13-14). The first line of the stanza seems to echo the hymn called “The Old Rugged Cross” while the second line contains an allusion to Matthew 6:21 (NIV), “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” But the underlying map metaphor emerges in the relationship between the two lines: when it comes to maps, as the cliché goes, “x marks the spot” where the treasure can be found. In these lines, the Cross “marks” the spot where the poet’s “treasure” lies.
In this stanza, the poet also makes an interesting reference to her “memory” (line 15), one which implies that she remembers the words of Jesus on the Cross as if she had actually been there: “And in my memory I hear/Your last words as I draw near/The Living Water said, ‘I thirst’” (lines 15-17). This seems to place the poet in company with Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Jesus, John the Beloved Disciple, and others who were within earshot when Jesus was crucified. Somewhat discordantly, the lines echo Andrew Marvell’s words in To His Coy Mistress: “At my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” a context which does not obviously fit here but is nevertheless present, perhaps because in suggesting that she could have heard and thus remembered Jesus’ words, the poet is playing with time.
In any case, more interesting is the contrast between “Living Water,” the poem’s third metaphorical divine name, and “I thirst” in line 17. By calling Jesus the “Living Water,” the poet is of course alluding to John 4:10, when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well and said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The context of this biblical verse makes it clear that Jesus is referring to himself. Line 17 pairs this reference with John 19:28 where, while on the Cross, Jesus says, “I am thirsty.”
These are not, however, the “last words” Jesus speaks in John’s version of the crucifixion story. The words are, rather, “It is finished” (John 19:30 NIV). The poet knew this, so it is odd that she would allow her poem to imply that these words were Jesus’ last, but perhaps she saw in them a parallel to Jesus’ “last words” in the gospels of Matthew and Mark: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The poet’s verb choice, “cried,” links the two verses. Both contain a note of desperation; both indicate Jesus’ separation from God the Father. For if Jesus could have drunk the “living water” that he had offered to the Samaritan woman when he was on the Cross, he would not have thirsted. If he could have been one with the Father when he was being crucified, he would not have cried out from the pain of abandonment, “Why have you forsaken me?” The poet resolves the pain of this abandonment in her own way at the conclusion of the stanza, noting that the Living Water uttered these words “Before he broke the Gates of fear” (line 18). The “Gates of fear” in this line are probably equivalent to the “Gates of Death.”
The fourth stanza, like the third, again lacks overt reference to the metaphorics of mapping, unless we consider the epithet for God in line 22, “the ruler of everything,” where ruler can mean both one who governs and one who uses a ruler, that is, one who draws lines with a ruler—presumably, in this case, on a map.
This is the fourth reference to God in the stanza: line 19 calls him a “Tree,” line 21 “Root of Jesse” and “Rachel’s King.” The “Tree” of line 19 is a vehicle with two tenors. First and most obviously, it refers to the Cross; the equation of the Cross with a tree is quite common and relates, in part, to the biblical idea that Jesus was the second Adam and the medieval notion that his Cross stood in the same place as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The reference to “Root of Jesse” refers at once to Isaiah 11:10 and more specifically to Romans 15:7-8 and 12, where Paul cites Isaiah in support of his argument that Jesus is the Christ of the Gentiles as well as the Jews: “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written . . . ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule the nations, the Gentiles will hope in him.’” The stanza makes it clear that the Pauline reference is intended in the previous lines, which read, “And now I marvel at the Tree/That grafts in the wild olive shoot,” because the “wild olive shoot” is a Pauline metaphor for Gentiles in Romans 11: 11-24. The reference to “Rachel’s King,” though not Pauline, is in the same vein. Rachel here signifies Israel whose King is God. The stanza ends with the poet’s knowledge that God takes her “toward eternity” where she hears the angels singing in their heavenly choir.
The fifth stanza returns to a more explicit use of the map metaphor: “My compass is for True North/Where no boundary or line/Keeps souls in pain from knowing God.” Here “True North” could signify either heaven or God Himself, but I take it to be the former. The use of images of feet in the last three lines of the stanza tangentially relates to traveling and maps: “And where every foot is new-shod/With the gospel of the Prince’s peace/On which we stood, fell and trod.” The image of feet “shod with the gospel of peace” is another Pauline allusion, this time from Ephesians 6:14-15: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around you waist, and the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” Interestingly, the poet specifies that the peace she speaks of belongs to “the Prince,” a reference to “the Prince of Peace,” a phrase which appears in Isaiah 9:6 and there clearly signifies God. The verbs “stood, fell and trod” have triune significance, where “stood” links back to Ephesians 6:14 (stand firm), “fell” alludes to Christian martyrs and “trod” indicates those who, to their own shame, caused the gospel to be trodden under foot by their own hypocrisy and sinfulness. Interestingly, the poet includes herself in all three of these categories when she uses the word “we”: “we stood, fell and trod.”
The sixth stanza is the stanza of transformation, the point in the poem where the map of the poet’s heart becomes music:
I joy, that in these songs I see
A map re-writ with music
A palimpsest for Christ-Jesu
With notes of blood set to woo
The Bride from her chamber closed
To the life of love made new
In these lines, the poet imagines her heart as a map that has been taken and used for another writing task, as a palimpsest, and that the text which over-writes her map is a musical score. The notes of the music are written in blood–the blood, of course, of Christ –which constitutes a song designed “to woo/The Bride.” In biblical metaphors, the Bride usually signifies Israel, the Church or the individual human soul. In the medieval period, the Bride was also understood to be Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Here in the sixth stanza the poet could be referring to a collective Bride, to the Church, as the “we” in line 30 suggests, but the “I” of line 31 may mean the Bride is a much more personal self-identification. The Bride’s “closed chamber” alludes to the hortus conclusus, the closed garden, of the Song of Songs and the bridal chamber of Psalm 45, “All glorious is the princess in her chamber” (v.13, NIV). The fact that the Bride is in “her chamber closed” is not only a biblical allusion, but a physiological one. The heart is made up of four chambers, and the soul of the poet—the individual human soul so oft equated with the biblical Bride—is circulating in the blood that enters and exits the chambers of the heart.
As has already been stated, the poet’s equation of map with palimpsest over-written with musical score pictures the poet’s heart as a text inscribed with Christ’s blood, but I have not explored at least one important implication of this image: if Christ’s blood is written on the poet’s heart, then that blood is flowing in the poet’s own blood, and thereby becomes the life—or the invitation to the life—which she will live. The poet imagines a song from this musical score which invites the Bride “to the life of love made new” (line 36). Presumably this is a renewed love life “within” and therefore for the poet’s earthly life, but it could also be a love life renewed in heaven; in lines 23-24, the poet is certainly looking toward “eternity.” It may be that the poet sees Christ wooing her soul from her heart toward heaven, that, in short, she is looking forward to her own death.
The final stanza seems to confirm this reading, especially in the final lines: “Draw me home to you, my Love/And into the light of day.” These are the words articulated by the map of the poet’s heart (lines 40-41), which has been made into a musical score, as a song, an antiphon, a response to God. It is this song, and the song of the angels in line 24 and the song constituted by the entire poem (“Song to the Mapmaker”), which I take to be the reference for “these” in line 31: “I joy, that in these songs I see.” Line 31 is also an intertextual allusion to line in a poem by John Donne, “Hymne to God My God in my Sicknesse,” a line which reads: “I joy, that in these straights, I see my West.” “These songs” may therefore also include Donne’s hymn.
Indeed, Donne’s poem really is the key to unlocking the heart of “Song to the Mapmaker.” It would be easy to miss the connection between Donne and the poet, since most of what the poet uses from Donne can be found in earlier biblical and medieval sources, but Donne is a crucial intermediary. As recourse to the poet’s journals indicates, the poet was reading this poem repeatedly in the weeks preceding the composition of her own poem, and “Song to the Mapmaker” reflects Donne’s influence in more ways than one. The titles are partially parallel (compare “Hymn to God” with “Song to the Mapmaker”); both poems contain stanzas of six lines each; both poems use mapping metaphors and textual metaphors and the image of Christ’s Cross as a Tree. Perhaps most significantly the poems share a focus on eternal life and the Christian hope of union with Christ in heaven.
However, the poems differ in one formal respect. Donne composes his hymn in six stanzas while our poet uses seven. For Donne, six was man’s number; he left the seventh unfinished because, upon his death, his poem and his life would reach perfection. For our poet, seven signifies the Sabbath, the day of rest, but eight signifies Sunday, the day of Christ’s Resurrection and so perfection of a similar kind. Thus the poet’s seven stanzas are not an arrogant presupposition of perfection, but rather a yearning toward the unwritten eighth stanza: the Resurrection. Interestingly, the seventh stanza may contain a Johannine allusion to Jesus in the words, “Draw me home to you . . . And into the light of day,” where the tenor of light is Christ.
“Song to the Mapmaker” is a poem which draws on biblical, medieval, and seventeenth-century metaphysical traditions to praise God. In it, the poet imagines God as a mapmaker and her own heart as a map. In the sixth stanza, as we have seen, the poet’s heart and her metaphor are transformed. Both become music, written by Christ, which sing of “the life of love made new.” It is to this life that the poet looks forward with joy. In committing her “song” to paper, she invites her readers to the same life, the same joy, and the same love.
Appendix I: “Hymne to God my God in my Sicknesse”
Since I am comming to that Holy roome,
Where, with thy Quire of Saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy Musique; As I come
I tune the Instrument here at the dore,
And what I must doe then, thinke here before.
Whilst my Physitians by their love are growne
Cosmographers, and I their Mapp, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be showne
That this is my South-west discoverie
Per fretum febris, by these streights to die,
I joy, that in these straits, I see my West;
For, though theire currants yeeld returne to none,
What shall my West hurt me? As West and East
In all flatt Maps (and I am one) are one,
So death doth touch the Resurrection.
Is the Pacifique Sea my home? Or are
The Easterne riches? Is Jerusalem?
Anyan, and Magellen, and Gibraltare,
All streights, and none but streights, are ways to them,
Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Sem.
We thinke that Paradise and Calvarie,
Christs Crosse, and Adams tree, stood in one place;
Looke Lord, and finde both Adams met in me;
As the first Adams sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adams blood my soule embrace.
So, in his purple wrapp’d receive mee Lord;
By these his thornes give me his other Crowne;
And as to others soules I preach’d thy word,
Be this my Text, my Sermon to mine owne,
Therfore that he may raise the Lord throws down.