Richard Wilbur’s “The Death of a Toad” hauntingly depicts the demise of a toad “caught” and “clipped” by a power mower in a garden accident. The incident was apparently witnessed by Wilbur, who responded in verse—enlarging the event to metaphoric and symbolic proportions reflecting the poet’s concerns with a metaphysical reality beyond material existence; with the nature and meaning of death; and with the extinction of primal forces by an inevitable, unstoppable, and impersonal technology. The poem is composed of three stanzas, each with six lines of varying lengths, visually and metrically balanced to one another. The form and balance of the stanzas create a visual and formal precision, a sort of metrical “cage” in ironic counterpoint to the disturbing portrayal of the toad’s last moments on earth.
The first stanza of the poem relates the mutilating event and the subsequent “hobbling hop” that the toad manages in an attempt to find a suitable and serene place to die. Wilbur utilizes inverted word order in the opening line (“A toad the power mower caught”) and a series of directional prepositional phrases so that the reader visually and emotionally follows the toad to “a final glade.” The second and pivotal stanza focuses on the actual death of the creature and frighteningly mirrors it (an image repeated in the last stanza) in the toad’s “banked and staring” eyes. This stanza underscores the absolute finality and...
(The entire section is 536 words.)