Study Guide

Turtle Allusions

By Kay Ryan

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Literary and Philosophical References

There aren't any specific Shout-Outs in this poem, with the possible exception of the title. How's that, you ask? Check this out:

Turtles have lived on planet earth far longer than human beings have; sea turtles even predate some dinosaurs! So maybe it's not surprising that in many mythologies the turtle is a symbol of creation, long life, and wisdom. Often the turtle is pictured as carrying the world or holding up the heavens. For example, in the Cheyenne culture, old grandmother turtle supports the earth on her back. In Hindu mythology, the earth is supported by four elephants standing on the shell of a turtle.

What does any of this have to do with Kay Ryan's "Turtle"? Maybe nothing. The poem contains no explicit shout-outs to mythological turtles. Still, as we have seen, the abstract character of Ryan's turtle does lend itself to symbolic interpretations (check out "What's Up With the Title?" and the discussion of allegory in "Symbols, Imagery, and Wordplay").

You can make up your own mind about this issue. But before you do, ask yourself this question. Now that I know a little about turtles in mythology, do I look at the turtle in Ryan's poem any differently?

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