Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Larkin’s “Toads” can be seen as a humorous criticism of the illusion produced when one believes in romantic ideals. Striving to get the “fame and the girl and the money” (line 31), one works six of the seven days of the week. Rather than the glorious result one had hoped for, there is only enough money for “paying a few bills” (line 7).

Worse than the general tragedy of being forced to work is the inability to stand up to the system and leave, to assert that one’s own choices are more important than the approval of society. The second toad in the poem, passivity, is even more tragic because it is an inner rather than an outward force. In the final stanza, the lack of individual choice becomes more than the problem of a single person. It is not only the narrator who cannot make the leap; all humankind is affected. All human beings squat in their own little lives, unable to move, unhappy to stay.

In a way, then, “Toads” is more than a poem about the unfair proportions of work and play; instead, it is a poem about taking a chance. What is it that keeps one from following one’s dreams? Is it the way society is structured (toad 1) or, instead, something inside each individual, some action-freezing fear of the unknown and untried (toad 2)? Although he refuses to assert a definite relationship between the two toads, Larkin speculates that perhaps “one bodies the other’s spiritual truth” (lines 33-34). Perhaps the system...

(The entire section is 490 words.)