Turtle Island

A Native Role; Gary Snyder as the seer and prophet in 'Turtle Island' College

Charles Altieri writes that in his collection of poetry, Turtle Island, Gary Snyder encapsulates two roles: the seer and the prophet. Altieri describes the two roles vaguely, the seer being one who is able to look past the irrelevant aspects of modern life to a purer kind of experience, while the prophet is able to articulate a traditional way of thinking native to the land of America. It could be argued that due to the vagueness surrounding the description of these two roles it would be hard not to find some continuity between Altieri’s idea and the poems, but regardless the distinction between the two roles can clearly be seen. Two good examples of Snyder acting as seer and prophet are the poems “The Bath” and “The Uses of Light” respectively.

Before the two poems can be dealt with, it is worth mentioning the title of the collection as incorporating both the vision of the seer and the understanding of the prophet. The name Turtle Island is a direct reference to Native American culture, it being a name for the American continent based off of the creation myths of several Native tribes. In his essay “Gary Snyder: The Lessons of Turtle Island”, Michael Castro writes that the title encapsulates a “recurrent theme among its poems...

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