... [Poets ] appeal to the reader to catch the writer's spirit, to think with him, if one can or will, an expression no longer of fact but of his sense of it, his peculiar intuition of a world - prospective or discerned below the faulty conditions of the present... - Walter Pater
We excel in creating arbitrary lines on maps
; delineating countless villages, towns, cities, counties, states, and nations from one another
. These arbitrary lines exert influences
on our lives subtle or great. For many they are the difference between life and death
Children die everyday in America, the richest nation on earth, for lack of healthcare. Some of these kids live just a few dozens of miles from Canada - a place with national healthcare. The difference is even greater comparing Mexico to the United States. San Diego is just twenty miles from Tijuana, but the arbitrary line that divides the lives of their respective citizens is of unimaginable consequence. But even within nations arbitrary lines determine our lives - from the schools we attend to the doctors we see to the politicians that represent us.
Wire, a British art-punk band from the 1970's, wrote a song that doesn't directly address this issue, but that I've always associated with it - Map Ref. 41°N 93°W, from their album 154 released in 1979.
Perhaps the reason is because poetry is not dead, but is visible most prominently today in song lyrics. And, as postulated by Walter Pater, the poet creates a sense of an idea and doesn't have to spell it out exactly. Ambiguity, metaphor, interpretation. I choose to interpret this as a song about arbitrary lines on the map.
Of course I also like the song because the map coordinates land suspiciously close to my favorite city - Madison, Wisconsin.
Lyrics are as I hear them after repeated listenings.
Map Ref. 41°N 93°W
An unseen ruler
Defines with geometry
Expanse of geography
An aerial photographer
To the cartologist's 2D
The areas where the water flowed
So petrified the landscape grows
Straining eyes try to understand
Incessantly in hand
The carving and the paring of the land
The quarter-square the graph divides
Beneath the rule a country hides
Chorus, interrupting my train of thought
Of longitude and latitude
The curtain's undrawn
Harness fitted, no escape
Common and peaceful, duck, flat, lowland
Landscape, canal, canard, water coloured
For floral kings
A well-known waving
Span of wings
Witness, the sinking of the sun
A deep breath of submission has begun
Interrupting my train of thought
Of longitude and latitude