What is the tone of Phillip Larkin's poem, "Toads"?
Phillip Larkin's poem "Toads" has an overtone of sardonic humor that accompanies his speaker's underlying tone of chagrin. The strained extended metaphor of the toad on the speaker's back creates a conceit that mimics such classical poetry as "The Rape of the Lock." Of course, the metaphor of the toad connotes both the seemingly interminable burden upon the speaker of work as well as the damaging effects upon the speaker's soul.
Larkin's melancholic contemplation of his situation is "less deceived" as one critic writes,
[Larkin's] poetry is so witty and deft that it speaks with singular authority and aplomb.
In bemoaning his state of having to work all the time, the speaker wishes that he could make the leap [toad pun intended] to exist as "Lots of folk" who are
... courageous enough
To shout, Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on.
But, in his self-disappointment, Larkin's speaker strives to use his wit to drive away his depression:
For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,
And will never allow me to blarney
My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.
Thus, the speaker is left with his rueful meditation of whether to work in order to have comforts; that is, to live to work, or to merely work enough to sustain life.