In "Toads," Larkin demystifies the popular myth that it would be great not to have work at a day job. This is the dream of winning the lottery or making millions as a rock star or inspirational speaker.
The poem begins with the speaker wishing he could use his "wit as a pitchfork" to get rid of his odious day job. He complains he has to "toil" six days a week at a job that feels like "poison" in order to pay a few bills. It doesn't seem fair he should have to work so hard to gain so little.
He dreams of living by his wits as others do, perhaps by becoming a "lecturer" or a "losel." He notes those people are not destitute. He describes the poor men up the street from him who get by without jobs: they might have bare feet and overly skinny wives, but they don't starve.
Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
All of the thoughts of the narrator above express a common dream to quit the day job, stop being the servile toady, and to say to the boss, "take your job and shove it." Yet the twist comes as the speaker acknowledges that the security of the job is the dream, stating:
But I know, all too well
that's the stuff
That dreams are made on:
He goes on to state that he has a toad within him, a self that likes the security that a steady jobs brings, as well as the girl and the money he has because of it. Those are not nothing.
Larkin achieves the demystification of the dream of freedom from work by making his speaker an honest, down-to-earth, practical person who realizes that the life of the day job is not so bad. Larkin also achieves his goal by turning upside an allusion to Shakespeare's The Tempest. In that play, Prospero, the magician, has conjured up a dream image of reapers and nymphs dancing. He dissolves the vision and says:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself—
Yea, all which it inherit—shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on ...
Prospero is saying we humans will die and dissolve just as his dream vision has, but the speaker of "Toads" uses "the stuff / that dreams are made of" to describe his day job and pension: it the practical, solid, day-to-day stuff in the here and now that matters, not the airy-fairy visions or pronouncements that one day we will die.