"Turtle" isn't Kay Ryan's only poem about an animal—far from it. She's written about a flamingo, a sheep, a rat, a snake, an osprey, a shark, even a herring. Yet she claims, "I do not think that I have ever written an honest animal poem." She goes on to explain that the animals in her poems are symbolic. Through the use of personification, the character of the turtle acquires various human attributes. Interpreted as an allegory of human experience, "Turtle" may suddenly start sounding like your own diary entries on below-luck-level days when you're stuck up to your axle.
Title: Notice that the title is "Turtle," not "The Turtle." Check out "What's Up With the Title?" and "Shout-Outs" to find out how this seemingly trivial detail supports an allegorical interpretation of the poem.
Line 1: Here's the one and only place in the poem, aside from the title, where the word "turtle" appears. So what? It's obvious that the poem is about a turtle, so there's no need to repeat the actual word "turtle," right? Fair enough. But it is worth noting that for the remainder of the poem, the poet makes a deliberate decision to use feminine pronouns (she, her) instead of repeating the word "turtle" or using the impersonal pronoun "it" (check out "Women and Femininity" in the "Themes" section).
Line 7: Personification really kicks in with this line, as the turtle acquires the human attributes of "modest hopes" and "practical" thinking.
Line 14: Again, the personified turtle displays a human characteristic; this time the human quality is "patience."