25 January 2015
Leatherback, Loggerhead, or Just Turtle
Kay Ryan’s Turtle on first read is nothing more than a poem about a stodgy turtle and it’s below average life, but the author is undoubtedly articulating life and how humankind struggle throughout each awakening day just to survive. Front page material screams murder, mayhem and the apocalypse to the multitude on a daily basis reinforcing what a challenge it is to exist. Dogs and cats are the most popular pets, because they are soft and enjoy affection and sometimes playful interaction. After a hard day of laboring through the grease and grim at your pitiful factory job, you come home and meeting you at the door is a 77 year old desert tortoise. You reach down to stroke the turtle, and it retracts its head into its shell because it wants nothing to do with you, starting to feel threatened it snaps at your fingers. Youngsters and adults typically adore animals and especially loves turtles are not what Kay was trying to convey in this piece. She wanted to use an animal that most people would not, or could not relate too. It depicts a harsh reality to a mundane occurrence. Ryan portrays a turtle using metaphors, rhyming, personification, assonance and imagery to relate that the human daily grind of humanity is no different than any chelonian.
As the reader you are being baited into thinking, “What is she thinking? Is there a human being in this world that would want to live the life of a turtle?” It remains still hibernating in a rocky self-dug hole for long periods of time without any contact to the outside world only to emerge to a cruel and unforgiving reality. Eating grass and trying to avoid a speeding teenager driving on a country road, or a starving alligator seems like a life of misery. She goes on and likens the turtle to something cumbersome that can barely get out of its own way. “A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,” (line 2) Dinner rolls are made to be enjoyed while warm, soft and freshly from the oven, but this roll is hard and not consumable. A meal that the majority would not choose if given the chance, but ingest if absolutely necessary is what a crusty dinner roll represents. It brings to mind rowing a boat with three other people in rough water, just trying to make ground in the choppy sea. Turtles have extremely hard outer shells and have serious problems with locomotion, and Ryan uses these metaphors in the first few lines which portrays a seriously immobile, clumsy loggerhead. Ryan shows us right away that being a turtle is not like Franklin the Turtle, a character in the Franklin picture book series by Paulette Bourgeois who goes to school and eats sandwiches that his mom makes, or plays outside without care with his friends. This turtle does not go to school, or receive an education like Franklin.
The reader can start to identify with the turtle as Ryan gives the animal gender and makes you start to feel for her and the chances the turtle must take to eat. Ryan gives the turtle not a name, but describes it as “her”. The female or egg laying half of the turtle race who not only has to find food through any means possible, but carry the future while doing so. This responsibility was not by her own choice, it was handed down to her by nature. Gathering food is not something civilized people do on a regular basis; they simple order while resting comfortably in their air conditioned vehicle while listening to their favorite AC/DC soundtrack. On the other hand, the turtle is dangerously rowing with its four stubby legs towards its meager reward of grass. She is moving so slow and deliberately that any number of creatures could easily stop her quest for nourishment. Ryan pens the word rowing, but turtles cannot row. Those slow, deliberate strokes symbolize just how hard any movement is for this leatherback just to find sustenance.
Ryan describes a turtle...
Cited: “Turtle” by Kay Ryan 1994 Copper Beech press
“Franklin Goes to School” Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark May 2011
Please join StudyMode to read the full document