The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Toads” is based on an extended analogy and presents a common complaint: In order to afford the enjoyments of life, people spend so much time working that the labor often overshadows and ultimately spoils their enjoyment. Philip Larkin, who compares work to a toad, takes the complaint one step further by confessing that although he is envious of those who have conquered work, he cannot break free from the expectations of the system because “something sufficiently toad-like/ Squats in me, too” (lines 25-26). It is this final, greater toad that prevents Larkin from ever fulfilling the romantic dream of getting “The fame and the girl and the money/ All at one sitting” (lines 30-32). “Toads” is thematically divided into four sections. The first section, stanzas 1 and 2, sets up the problem and introduces a toad as a metaphor for work. The toad “work” squats on life, soiling six days out of seven, a disproportionate percentage, but “wit” or cleverness seems to be a solution to the despair it causes. Stanzas 3 through 5 look at the people who have banished the toad. Such people include “lecturers, lispers, loblolly-men and louts” as well as the outcasts of society. The speaker is amazed that although these people have shunned the “accepted” way, no one is a pauper and “No one actually starves” (line 20).

In the third section, the narrator tries to visualize himself as someone who could make a similar leap...

(The entire section is 490 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The major and most obvious poetic device that Larkin employs is the extended metaphor of a toad, first representing work and then a sense of conformity or a reluctance to oppose the majority. Larkin’s toad work “squats” on life, impeding action and poisoning the workweek while the second toad impedes any attempt at rebellion against socially accepted norms. Ironically, when one thinks of toads, verbs such as leap and jump come to mind. Larkin’s toads, however, neither leap nor jump but remain sluggishly inactive, “heavy as hard luck,/ And cold as snow” (lines 27-28). These two similes indicate why the narrator of the poem is unable to make the leap out of the restraining mold of his present life into a new one: He chooses to remain motionless like the toads, constantly appearing ready to move but resisting the urge.

The choice of the toad as a symbol is also significant because of the English slang word “toadie,” which suggests an individual who caters to others’ ideas and complies with society’s demands. Larkin also uses irony, however, when he depicts those who have escaped the toad work as less than stellar examples of what humanity can become. Several are described as worthless or contemptible, yet another connotation of the word toad.

Another technique utilized by Larkin is the interjection of humor into a potentially depressing poem. Through near rhyme (for example, other/either, truth/both in the final stanza), he...

(The entire section is 426 words.)