The language used by Gary Snyder in “Turtle Island” paints a vivid picture of mankind’s relationship with the natural world, as well as critiques the not so good things about modern day society. I feel Snyder’s message is to ultimately respect all life and not leave too big of a “footprint” on this Earth, for the wrong steps could lead us down a dangerous and irreversible road. With that being said, I also believe his language details the importance of our environment and that the natural world is really the force in control no matter how much humans think we can control everything. I have picked a few poems that I believe best convey this message.
First is my favorite poem out of this book, “Mother Earth: Her Whales”.
In this piece, Gary Snyder starts off with a wonderful description of creatures in the rainforest using specific imagery. He states:
“An owl winks in the shadows
A lizard lifts on tiptoe, breathing hard
Young male sparrow stretches up his neck,
Big head, watching-“
This type of language brings life to the animals of the rainforest and establishes them as alive and conscious beings, observing. Then, the poem shifts into calling out Brazil by stating
“Thirty thousand kinds of unknown plants.
The living actual people of the jungle
Sold and tortured-
And a robot in a suit who peddles a delusion called “Brazil” can speak for them?”
The language used in this stanza shows that the social construct of a country owning the land that was there long before the established human takeover is absurd. These people really don’t have the right to get to decide what happens as far as the natural world in that area goes; humans just gave themselves power by force and everyone else doesn’t really care as long as they are not impacted directly. But Snyder then goes on to speak about the humans that are indigenous there and have been for countless generations. Now because of profit, people in suits that call the shots for the imaginary borders of a government that operates as “Brazil”, get to ruin the lives of people, animals, and all life forms alike. The language of this poem then goes on being descriptive and speaking of whales, describing them like graceful giants. Snyder speaks of the whales as
“Hanging over subtly darkening deeps
Flowing like breathing planets
in the sparkling whorls of
And finally, the last part of this poem il be discussing is this stanza
“And Japan quibbles for words on what kinds they can kill?
A once-great Buddhist nation
Dribbles methyl mercury
In the sea.”
This is where the poem again takes a dark turn and the language is used to describe the juxtaposition of how a Buddhist nation who peaches peace, then goes along and allows all of aquatic life, such as whales, to be harmed with mercury. Like gonorrhea in the sea, spreading the disease of methyl mercury.
Like “Mother Earth: Her Whales”, the poem “It Pleases” uses language to describe a social commentary on the relationship between lawmakers and the natural world. The poem starts off with a scene over Washington D.C. with a large bird on top of dome of the capitol building. I found this language of being a metaphor. The bird seems to represent the natural world at whole; being on top of the capitol where the laws are made. This simply means that no matter how much humans or politicians try to keep everything in order and be the most powerful entity on Earth, Mother Nature will always be the supreme entity and no law or person can really do anything if say a natural disaster happens. Snyder states:
“The center of power is nothing!
Old white stone domes,
Strangely quiet people,
The world does what it pleases.”
These were really the standout lines that stood out to me as far as what the language was trying to insinuate: The world does what it pleases. Snyder shows how this entire stuff human’s do is strange and almost mundane to the bird. Lawmakers can make these laws but they are nothing in comparison to the laws of nature: Humans are really just another animal that is social and entitled, the power of Mother Nature and what she can do is a whole different magnitude. Like Snyder states, people just claim land and make it their own, then correlate this with power, such as money. The laws we make, we give meaning to, and we tend to stay away from destruction in order to avoid jail time. But Mother Nature is like a psychopath in an anarchist society: she will do what she pleases.
In conclusion, the language Snyder uses to captivate his audience is astounding. His poetic device ensues a tone of humbleness and the oneness of all beings. We must question everything around us in order to be critically thinking difference makers. That is what the meaning behind the language of Gary Snyder’s “Turtle Island” is all about. Whether or not we like it, the natural world is far more in tune with us than we are to it, and we have to play by its rules. We are merely guests on planet Earth for a short time; while the natural essence of Mother Nature remains, she is more powerful than us.