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Themes

Here's a riddle for you: In "Turtle," how is Kay Ryan's turtle like Abraham Lincoln? You can make up your own response if you like, but here's one answer: They both understand the power of perseverance. "I am a slow walker," said Lincoln, "but I never walk backward." Also, "I am not concerned that you have fallen—I am concerned that you arise." What a relief those words must be for Ryan's turtle! Lincoln seems like a kindred spirit (in high places!), a friend who would understand truly what her life is all about.

Questions About Perseverance

  1. Do you think the speaker of the poem is impressed by the turtle's perseverance? Why or why not? 
  2. How would you rank the turtle's perseverance on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is "gives up very easily" and 5 is "never quits"? Why? How would you rank yourself on such a scale? Why?
  3. Do you think perseverance is more of an inherited personality trait or a learned behavior? Why do you think so?
  4. What do you think is the source of the turtle's perseverance?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The turtle's perseverance shows the power of courage and hope. Against overwhelming odds, the turtle not only manages to survive, but also finds meaning and even joy in the humble circumstances of her life. Turtle power!

Sorry, gang. The turtle perseveres because she has to survive, but her actions are more pitiful than admirable. The poem suggests that harsh circumstances can rob people of hope, making them passive and meek. Merely enduring is not really living.

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