The Turtle

In the genre of the commissioned poem, there are not many as charming as this one. When Williams addresses the child as his noble patron (“my Lord”) and alludes to the old myth of the tortoise that supports the universe, he slyly introduces the underlying weight of civilization and history into the interchange between him and the child. The matter-of-fact acceptance of the violence in the child’s imagination is an interesting aspect of Williams’ own omnivorous imagination. I don’t think any other poet has succeeded in using the American word “car” as effectively as Williams does in this poem and others.

–Robert Pinsky

Not because of his eyes,
     the eyes of a bird,
          but because he is beaked,

birdlike, to do an injury,
     has the turtle attracted you.
          He is your only pet.

When we are together
     you talk of nothing else
          ascribing all sorts
of murderous motives
     to his least action.
          You ask me
to write a poem,
     should I have a poem to write,
          about a turtle.

The turtle lives in the mud
     but is not mud-like,
          you can tell it by his eyes
which are clear.
     When he shall escape
          his present confinement
he will stride about the world
     destroying all
          with his sharp beak.
Whatever opposes him
     in the streets of the city
          shall go down.

Cars will be overturned.
     And upon his back
          shall ride,
to his conquests,
     my Lord,

You shall be master!
     In the beginning
          there was a great tortoise
who supported the world.
     Upon him
          All ultimately
     Without him
          nothing will stand.
He is all wise
     and can outrun the hare.
          In the night
his eyes carry him
     to unknown places.
          He is your friend.