D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi

Poetic Interpretation


                                                      From: Bodleian Libraries Rights:
                                        Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford


Poetic Interpretation of The Selden Map

Historians deal with facts or at least as many as they can find. They piece together these facts gleaned from documentary evidence such as wills, acts of parliament, laws and speeches. Then, they try to interpret these facts to discern a particular pattern. However, history somewhat resembles the field of archeology where about nine-tenths of the evidence still remains buried. Therefore, the art of history and archeology tend to generalize about what might have happened around a few specific facts.

The origin of The Selden Map is uncertain and even the year in which it was drawn. Historians say that its creation lies between 1607 and 1619. The map depicts trade routes in the South China Sea at the time of the Ming Dynasty. The cartographer is unknown; although, a scholar whose name was John Selden saved the map for posterity by bequeathing it in a will. The map remained buried, so to speak, in a vault at Oxford until it was realized that it might have something to say about the territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Historians examine the trades routes and consider the accuracy of the map. They decipher the Chinese writing on the map. They look at the islands depicted and the coastlines displayed. They don't pay much attention to the flora since it might be regarded as just an embellishment. They are not aware of any fauna. They might scoff at the idea that a person(s) or figure(s) is represented on the map. In other words, historians consider water, vegetables and minerals while poets consider animals, humans and the divine.

However, it might be argued that The Selden Map is much more than a cartographic representation of the South China Sea. It should also be considered as an artistic creation; so, it seems its artistic aspect should not be overlooked. Actually, if one considers facts alone, it may never have been used by an actual mariner or have been designed for that purpose.

D. Carlton Rossi has designed eight poems or images which are collectively called The Selden Poems. They represent the third series of image poems that include the Celestial Giza and Banpo Poetry series. Earlier, there was a "word" poem called El Entierro de Carlos, Infante de España which was filled with images and represents a poetic interpretation of El Greco's painting called El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz.

The poet does not wish to explain The Selden Poems. If he wished to explain them then he would have written the poems rather than used images from The Selden Map. An explanation is a kind of translation which is one step away from the original. If one wishes to really understand The Selden Map then one must look at the map rather than at an explanation of it.

A copy of the map has been provided on the internet courtesy of the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It allows the viewer to examine the map in detail. This paper will look at several images which have not hitherto been highlighted on the map through The Selden Poems. The images may give the viewer some inkling of how the entire map might be considered from an imaginative, poetic, point of view. Those images are buried deep in the subconscious and are revealed through free association among other ways.


The first set of images is the compass and ruler. One might wonder why the ruler is not quite horizontal but is slanted downward. The slant may indicate the angle which geographic north differs from magnetic North. Is the reading on the compass done at that particular geographic location?


                            Inclination at Kyoto, Japan (2015)

It may be noted that the compass is roughly at the same latitude as Japan to the east. Scientists are aware that compasses off the coast of Japan point to Lake Baikal, Siberia to the West. "The reason why we have now westward declination in Japan is probably due to the presence of a strong, positive, geomagnetic anomaly around Lake Baikal in Siberia. The N-poles of magnetic needles tend to be attracted to the anomaly to show westward declinations around Japan."


                                       Lake Baikal, Siberia

A compass is usually held horizontally. In the northern hemisphere it will point in the direction of the north of the Earth which is the South pole of the Earth's magnet. However, the magnetic field is not only horizontally aligned but also vertically aligned. This means it not only indicates the direction of North and South but also "in or out" of the earth. In Japan, the very tip of the needle "dips" toward the magnetic anomaly beneath the surface of the waters of Lake Baikal where there is a rift formation. To compensate for this dip a modern compass is balanced at the other end.

The ruler which is present at the top of the Selden Map is obviously a way to measure distances on the map. The eight "X's" which are present are marked to facilitate the measurement of distances. It is conjectured though that the "X's" could stand for eight directions found on the compass.

                             The Big Dipper Asterism

Is it possible that the "X's" could represent the seven stars of the Big Dipper which is part of Ursa Major (the Bear)? Normally, the Dipper is considered to have seven stars, but there is another one present to the naked eye which is Alcor next to Mizar. These stars are Alkaid, Mizar-Alcor, Alioth, Megrez, Phecda, Merak and Dubhe. Alcor is either considered apart from the "canonical" or conventional seven or part of the binary Mizar-Alcor set. At any rate, eight "X's" do not equal seven stars.

The term "center of gravity" applies to a situation where there is a balance. For example, if one slips one's finger under a ruler at a point between both ends then one can balance it. This point is the center of gravity. It would correspond to the location of the infinity symbol.



The infinity symbol though is not composed of flowing curves like a typical infinity symbol, but rather straight lines forming partial triangles and curves or partial circles capping the ends. Since triangles can be used to compose squares it seems to suggest to the poet an approximate way to square a circle.


The stars Dubhe and Merak found in the bowl of the Big Dipper point directly to Polaris. The axis of the Earth also points almost directly to Polaris. This is why the Pole Star(s) is often called the Lode Star. Obviously, though, the Earth's magnet is not attracted to the Pole Star, but is coincidentally and approximately aligned with it. The Pole Star has been used throughout history by mariners to find North.


The Big Dipper can also be used to calculate time. The poet is aware that cowboys on the open plains of the American Mid-West used the position of the Big Dipper to calculate two hour shifts throughout the night. For example, at 24 hours the Big Dipper is in the North and so Dubhe and Merak point directly downward to Polaris. The Dipper then shifts in what appears to be a counter clockwise direction so that time can be calculated in one hour increments on a twenty-four hour clock.

In the middle of the ruler is a special symbol which is a super "X". It has been converted into a symbol which resembles infinity. On either side of the infinity symbol is a triangle pointing North. This triangle may itself represent a mechanical compass used in geometry. If one were to press down the needle of this compass and turn the knob then one can form a circle. The apex of the mechanical compass is the center of this dry compass. Chinese mariners though using maps indicating trade routes who plied the seas actually used wet compasses or needles floating on water.

However, an inquisitive and intrepid poet of the seventeenth century who was off the coast of Japan might simply follow the direction of the compass to Lake Baikal. The mischievous monkey, Sun Wukong, or the Monkey King might also use the needle behind his ear in a compass so that he knows the direction of the Northern Sea which he can reach in a single bound. Then, he can test the intellect and ingenuity of the Dragon King of Wells and Springs.


The poet now wishes to draw your attention to an "L'image" poem of the Celestial Giza Series. It is called 天体精密機器. It is pronounced in Japanese as Seresutiaru no seimitsu kiki. This may be translated as The Celestial Precision Instruments. In other words, these tools are not only found on the top of The Selden Map, but may be imagined in the heavens. Were they seen by the ancients as instruments to build the structures at Giza and their celestial versions near the binary Polestar system of Draconis 11 and 10 at the top of the North Circumpolar Rectangle between the Big and Little Dippers? Today, the Polestar is actually a system of three stars rotating around a barycenter or the common center of mass.


                                   Rectangles and Ruler

There appears to be another mystery concerning the rectangle within a rectangle which is located to the right of the compass. Naturally, one assumes that the larger rectangle represents the map itself which is rectangular in shape. However, what does the smaller rectangle within it signify?

One explanation might be that  these rectangles represent the bowls of the two Dippers. In other words, the smaller bowl of the Little Dipper is within the bigger bowl of the Big Dipper. If one combines the ruler with the large rectangle then one has the Big Dipper.

This would mean that the four stars of the bowl of the Big Dipper (which Chinese students prayed to for good marks in the distant past) combined with four stars of the bowl of the Little Dipper would add up to eight stars represented on the map's ruler.

The Big Dipper was recognized as the chariot of the Emperor. He was able to control the four seasons with it. One image of The Selden Poem series indicates the Emperor blowing the wind or qi.

The south-pointing chariot carried a movable pointer to always show the South direction. According to legend the Yellow Emperor Huangdi invented the south pointing chariot around 2634 B.C. He used it to navigate through fog in order to find and defeat the enemy. 


However, one does not have to go through such mental gymnastics to get four stars within the bowl of the Big Dipper. On the ancient Dunhuang star chart of around 700 or the reign of Emperor Zhongzong of Tang (705-710) there are four stars in the form of a square within the big bowl. They represent the seat of divine justice. This gives a total of eight stars where four are within and four are without.


天体枢轴   copyright   D. Carlton Rossi
translated    The Celestial Pivot


                                       The Polaris Star System

Your attention is now drawn to two of The Selden Poems which are respectively called The Chinese Cardinal Directions (representing the five elements) and The Chinese Zodiac of twelve animals. Both poems are in a circular shape on rectangular backgrounds. One could place the circle of The Chinese Cardinal directions within a smaller rectangle at the center of the larger circle of The Chinese Zodiac bounded by a larger rectangle. The images would rotate around a central point in the heaven corresponding to the barycenter of the modern pole stars Polaris A, Ab and B or the Yellow Emperor. In other words, it is not nothingness at the center.

If the rectangles are empty it seems to the poet that one must fill them.
The moon is found on the north-west side of the map. One can still discern the letter "L" which would begin the word "Luna" or Moon. It is surrounded by clouds. The Sun is found on the north-east side of the map. It is labelled "Sol" or Sun in Latin; though, through time, part of it has been torn off. The Sun may be placed in the larger bowl. The Moon may be placed in the smaller bowl.  In other words, the Moon and the Sun would be rotating around their barycenter which is near the center of the Sun.


If the Moon covers the Sun one might also look upon it as an eclipse. A total eclipse of the Sun was centered on the Maluka Islands in the Banda Sea on June 30, 1601. It was preceeded by a volcanic eruption on Mt. Sinabung, Sumatra in 1600 which would have spewed ash into the atmosphere thus obscuring the sun; although, needless to say, there was no scientic connection between the eclipse and volcanic eruption.

D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi


Revised February 12, 2018

Transformation through Spiritual Pilgrimmage