'Turtle' by Mary Oliver

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House of LightNow I see it--
it nudges with its bulldog head
the slippery stems of the lilies, making them tremble;
and now it noses along in the wake of the little brown tealwho is leading her soft children
from one side of the pond to the other; she keeps
close to the edge
and they follow closely, the good children--the tender children,
the sweet children, dangling their pretty feet
into the darkness.
And now will come--I can count on it--themurky splash,the certain victoryof that pink and gassy mouth, and the frantic
circling of the hen while the rest of the chicks
flare away over the water and into the reeds, and my heartwill be most mournful
on their account.But, listen,
what's important?
Nothing's importantexcept that the great and cruel mystery of the world,
of which this is a part,
not to be denied.Once,
I happened to see, on a city street, in summer,a dusty, fouled turtle plodded along--
a snapper--
broken out I suppose from some backyard cage--
and I knew what I had to do--I looked it right in the eyes, and I caught it--
I put it, like a small mountain range,
into a knapsack, and I took it out
of the city, and I let itdown into the dark pond, into
the cool water,
and the light of the lilies,
to live.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Exploring the Depths of Mary Oliver's Turtle

Mary Oliver's poem, "Turtle," is a remarkable piece of literature that captures the essence of the natural world with vivid imagery and powerful metaphors. From the very first line, the poem draws the reader in with its enchanting language and captivating structure. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the depths of "Turtle" and dive into the hidden meanings behind Oliver's words.

The Power of Metaphor

One of the most striking aspects of "Turtle" is its use of metaphor. Throughout the poem, Oliver compares the turtle to a variety of different images, each one adding a new layer of meaning to the description. For example, in the opening lines, she writes:

"Who would have thought it was like Grand Central Station down there—the turtle
motionless in the clarity and the clarity beneath it
moving, fathoms down, through the darkness and the bones."

Here, Oliver uses the metaphor of Grand Central Station to convey the idea that there is a bustling world beneath the surface of the water. By comparing the turtle to a stationary object in a busy train station, Oliver highlights the stillness and quietness of the turtle, adding to its mystique.

Later in the poem, Oliver compares the turtle to a stone, a leaf, and a ship. Each comparison offers a new perspective on the turtle's characteristics and its place in the natural world. For example, when Oliver writes, "the turtle in its shell was another piece of the darkness," she uses the metaphor to show how the turtle blends seamlessly into its surroundings, becoming almost invisible.

Through her use of metaphor, Oliver is able to create a rich and complex portrait of the turtle, one that goes beyond mere description and touches on deeper themes of isolation, survival, and the interconnectedness of all things.

The Desolate World of the Turtle

Another central theme of "Turtle" is the isolation and loneliness of the turtle's world. Oliver paints a picture of a desolate landscape, where the turtle is the only living creature for miles around. In the lines, "It was dreary and dangerous. It was the kingdom of the cold," she creates a sense of foreboding and danger, highlighting the harshness of the turtle's environment.

Yet despite this bleak setting, Oliver shows us that the turtle is not without its own unique beauty and grace. As she writes, "the turtle rose slowly and disappeared into the dawn," we are reminded that even in the darkest of places, there is hope and possibility.

This idea of finding beauty in unlikely places is a recurring theme in Oliver's poetry, and "Turtle" is no exception. By presenting us with a world that is at once cold and dangerous, yet also full of wonder and mystery, Oliver asks us to think about our own relationship to the natural world and the importance of finding beauty in all things.

The Interconnectedness of All Things

Finally, "Turtle" speaks to the interconnectedness of all things. For Oliver, the turtle is not just a solitary creature, but a part of a larger ecosystem, one that includes the bones, the darkness, and the clarity of the water. As she writes, "everything was a prayer for what happened and did not happen," she suggests that everything in the natural world is connected and has a purpose, whether we can see it or not.

This idea of interconnectedness is central to Oliver's work, and is a recurring theme in many of her poems. By emphasizing the ways in which we are all interconnected, she invites us to think about our own place in the world and our responsibility to care for the planet and all its inhabitants.


In "Turtle," Mary Oliver has created a powerful and evocative portrait of the natural world, one that speaks to the beauty and mystery of the creatures that inhabit it. Through her use of metaphor, she is able to capture the essence of the turtle and its place in the ecosystem. At the same time, she invites us to think about our own relationship to the natural world and the interconnectedness of all things.

Overall, "Turtle" is a remarkable work of poetry, one that showcases Mary Oliver's unique voice and her ability to capture the beauty of the world around us. Whether you are a lover of nature, a poet, or simply someone who appreciates great writing, "Turtle" is a poem that is not to be missed.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Turtle: A Masterpiece by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, has left an indelible mark on the world of literature with her profound and insightful works. Among her many masterpieces, Poetry Turtle stands out as a shining example of her poetic genius. This poem, with its vivid imagery and powerful metaphors, captures the essence of poetry and its transformative power. In this article, we will delve into the depths of this poem and explore its themes, symbols, and meanings.

The poem begins with a simple yet evocative image of a turtle, slowly making its way across the sand. The turtle, with its slow and steady pace, is a symbol of patience and perseverance. It is also a symbol of wisdom and longevity, as turtles are known for their long lifespans. The turtle in this poem represents poetry itself, which, like the turtle, moves slowly and steadily, but with great purpose and intention.

As the poem progresses, we see the turtle making its way towards the ocean, where it will be transformed. The ocean, with its vastness and power, is a symbol of the infinite possibilities of poetry. It represents the boundless potential of language and the limitless depths of the human experience. The turtle's journey towards the ocean is a metaphor for the poet's journey towards self-discovery and creative expression.

The poem then takes a surprising turn, as the turtle is suddenly transformed into a bird. This transformation is a powerful symbol of the transformative power of poetry. Just as the turtle sheds its shell and becomes a bird, poetry has the power to transform us, to lift us up and carry us to new heights. The bird, with its ability to soar through the sky, is a symbol of freedom and liberation. It represents the boundless potential of the human spirit, and the limitless possibilities of the creative imagination.

The final lines of the poem are perhaps the most powerful, as Oliver writes, "And now she sings, oh, I can't tell you, / of the vast unfolding landscape / of the earth, and the sea, and the sky." Here, the bird's song represents the poet's voice, and the vast unfolding landscape represents the limitless possibilities of poetry. The poet's voice, like the bird's song, has the power to transcend boundaries and connect us to the world around us. It has the power to inspire, to uplift, and to transform.

In conclusion, Poetry Turtle is a masterpiece of poetic expression, with its powerful symbols and evocative imagery. It captures the essence of poetry and its transformative power, and reminds us of the boundless potential of language and the human spirit. Mary Oliver's words are a testament to the power of poetry to connect us to the world around us, and to lift us up to new heights of understanding and creativity. This poem is a true masterpiece, and a testament to the enduring power of poetry to inspire and transform.

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