Earle Birney’s “Mappemounde”: Visualizing Poetry With Maps

Adele J. Haft



This paper is about “Mappemounde,” a beautiful but difficult poem composed in 1945 by the esteemed Canadian poet Earle Birney. While exploring the reasons for its composition, we examine the poem’s debts to Old and Middle English poetry as well as to medieval world maps known as mappaemundi, especially those made in England prior to 1400. But Birney took only so much from these maps. In search of more elusive inspirations, both cartographic and otherwise, we uncover other sources: Anglo-Saxon poems never before associated with “Mappemounde,” maps from the Age of Discovery and beyond, concealed details of Birney’s personal life. Then we trace Birney’s long-standing interest in geography and exploration to show how he used maps, especially mappaemundi, as visual metaphors for his intellectual, spiritual, and personal life.


Poetry about Maps; Medieval World Maps/Mappaemundi; Medieval Poetry; Renaissance Maps; Moby Dick

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