By Ogden Nash
|The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile
Frederic Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was well-known for crafting humorous poems. In an obituary, the New York Times said that his “droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country’s best-known producer of humorous poetry”. Nash was related to General Francis Nash, a general in the American War of Independence who gave his name to the city of Nashville, Tennessee.
Many of Nash’s poems focus on the lives of animals. In whimsical short poems that seem to be about animals, he often conveys profound messages about the life of man. Some of his other poems about animals include, “The Cow,” “The Kitten,” and “The Camel.”
Nash writes, “The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks/ Which practically conceal its sex.” He is describing the anatomy of the common turtle. The “plated decks” are the edges of its hard exterior shell. When Nash says that the plates of the shell “conceal its sex,” he is using “sex” to mean gender. Since the shell of a turtle covers up nearly the entire body, it hides the gender identity of the animal. How is one turtle supposed to know if another turtle is a guy or a girl? (In reality, there are significant anatomical differences between male and female turtles that are visible regardless of the shell.)
Then Nash reflects, “I think it clever of the turtle/ In such a fix to be so fertile.” I found this poem confusing at first because I was misinterpreting the word “fix.” The word “fix” means “dilemma” here. The turtle faces a dilemma because it needs its shell for protection yet it also needs to mate to propagate the species. And yet, turtles must be able to overcome the issue because if they could not, they would have gone extinct a long time ago.
Well that’s fine for the turtle, but what about us humans? Actually, the poem has a lot to say about humans. Many people create metaphorical shells around their hearts to keep people out. For example, some people are very secretive about relationships, whom they like, and whom they are seeing. They do this so that if a relationship fails, few people know about it and so it is less painful. Yet this kind of shell can be detrimental if it keeps the person from finding someone special.
I wonder if Nash felt distinctions between males and females needed to be clearer. In my own lifetime, I have seen significant changes in how men and women dress. Sometimes it is very easy to tell at a glance if a person is male or female. Sometimes it is quite difficult. For instance, earrings used to be exclusively feminine. If you saw earrings on a person, you could be pretty certain that the person was a female. But now, quite a few men wear earrings too. It might seem like an insignificant thing, however, imagine if the trend became more pronounced. What if it was suddenly very difficult to tell if people were males or females? What would happen to relationships?
To paraphrase “Jurassic Park,” ultimately “nature finds a way.” Our drive to survive is so strong that we tend to overcome the obstacles in our path.
Reinventing, Recreating, and Reviving
- Allah, Increase Me In Faith By Asad Jaleel Paperback: $9.50 Ships in 3-5 business days Muslims need a straightforward, insightful guide to the fundamentals of Islamic faith. This book attempts to fill that need by explaining what Muslims believe in, what faith is, how people lose faith, and how people regain faith. Click "My Book" above or paste "http://goo.gl/gd7Yo" into your browser.