Rukhaya M.K

A Literary Companion

Poetry Analysis: Philip Larkin ‘s “Toads”


The toad in Philip Larkin’s “Toads” is a central metaphor by itself for a vocation that is forced. Especially, one that you have no attitude and aptitude for. The toad has been utilized as the apt metaphor as it is sluggish and ugly. It squats incorrigibly on areas that it is not supposed to, and is a pertinent emblem for stagnation. Here it stands for the stagnation of life, and stagnation of one’s rational and intellectual capabilities as it is sacrificed for the ‘labour’ of work..

The poet had an aptitude for writing that forms his area of expertise. The ‘wit’ here is a larger metaphor for people preferring money over their aptitude/area of interest. People do not resort to the vocation that they love for the want of more money, and therefore give in to the rat race…something that is represented by the great American Dream. The position of ‘squatting” is also an incorrigible/difficult one. The speaker strives to use his wit as a pitchfork and drive it away.

A week has only seven days, six of which the Toad soils. No adequate time is left for recreation. Just for the reason that that one has to toil to pay his bills, and that is totally out of proportion. The prospects of such work works like a “sickening poison”, one that grows on one’s system.

The poet goes on to list the many people who live on their wits. The first is the Lecturer. Lispers are here those ‘affecting the air of sophisticated culture’, not someone suffering from a speech impediment. These people thrive in the high strata by means of their ability of affectation. A ‘losel’ denotes a “worthless person”; and a lout a “clumsy, stupid fellow.” The speaker may signify that these may function as jokers/clowns by means of their wit. ‘Wit’ is also an alternative term to comedy. “Loblolly-man” from loblolly (meaning ‘a sloppy liquid’) may imply the act of appeasing someone (slang: soaping).This also requires a considerable talent in the art of talking. And yet, these people do not end up as paupers. He utilizes alliteration to emphasize this fact.

Also, people who seem to live on a basic minimum, seem to enjoy it, for they are not forced to work in spite of themselves. ‘Nippers’ is a kind of British colloquialism for ‘young boys’.

Lots of folk live up lanes With fires in a bucket, Eat windfalls and tinned sardines- They seem to like it. Their nippers have got bare feet, Their unspeakable wives Are skinny as whippets – and yet No one actually starves. The speaker wishes that he could tell his boss to go stuff his pension. But the idea of future dreams builds his vision, and obstructs his way. However, the irony of the situation is that one slogs to spend quality time with his loved ones; and in the rat-race does not get time at all to spend with his loved ones. The best years of his life are whiled away working overtime. The ‘hunkers’ weigh him down. They are as cold as snow, and therefore benumbing. The word ‘hunker’ has the following meanings:

1) To squat close to the ground; crouch. Usually used with down: hunkered down to avoid the icy wind.

2) To take shelter, settle in, or hide out. Usually used with down: hunkered down in the cabin during the blizzard.

3) To hold stubbornly to a position.(Source:answers.com)

Therefore, it may allude to all of these meanings: crouch to avoid harsh financial realties, find refuge in the same, and obstinately stick to this ground. The ‘road less traveled’ will never let him get hold of the girl, money and fame at a single setting. Both these aspects do not necessarily complement or embody(bodies) each other always. But when work and aptitude co-exist, it is not difficult but almost impossible to lose the both, in spite o

f yourself because you love it. As Robert Frost once said:” ‘My goal in life is to unite my avocation with my vocation,/As my two eyes make one in sight.”

Therefore the crux of the poem is: To work to live, or live to work?

©Rukhaya MK 2010

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1 Comment

  1. My brother who lives in Hull tells me that the word “toads” in Hull, where Larkin lived, is pronounced “turds”. Is this an example of his mischievous wit?

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