Philip Larkin – Toads – Poetry Lecture and Analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker


Now, before we do the read-through of this poem,
there a statement by Larkin that I think is very useful for us to
analyse his poetry through. And the statement is this. Larkin says that for a poem to work,
there are three stages that have to occur. And he says that the first of these is that
the poet has the idea for the thing that he wants to express. And the second is that the poet
finds a way to express that idea, and he says, the third is the reader
of the poem understands the original idea. Larkin points out that if the last one
of those stages doesn’t occur, then the first two might just as well
have never taken place. Now, that’s quite a fun statement. However, a lot of poets are
going to disagree with this. T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound for two. Larkin never liked the work
of those guys anyway. And he set about writing a poetry
that could be understood by the people that he directed the poetry at. Because here’s the real point
of Larkin’s statement. Whether the readers of your poems
understand what you have written or not, depends as much as anything on the
common frame of reference you have with them. So if, for example, you write a poem
and it is read by a four-year-old child, it stands to reason that the
four-year-old child is not going to understand what you have said,
because the four-year-old child does not have a common frame of reference. Similarly, people from different cultures,
different countries may not understand the references that you are making. This is no fault of theirs
and no fault of yours. But if you want your readers to understand you,
you have to be very specific about appealing to a specific kind of reader. And this is what I think Larkin did. Larkin was very careful
in the poetry that he wrote, to appeal to the type of people who,
in England, at least, read poetry. And the type of people who
read poetry in England, from 1955 to the 70s,
during when Larkin was writing, these people are by-and-large,
middle-class, working people. Middle-class, white collar workers. Now, I’m not saying here of course
that the only people who read poetry are middle-class white-collar workers. What I’m saying is that
a lot of people who do read poetry are middle-class white-collar workers,
and if you write about the concerns of middle-class white-collar workers,
or you situate your poetry in a world of middle-class white-collar workers,
you are going to reach an audience that understands what you’re talking about. And this, as Larkin points out,
is very important to him. That third stage whereby he says,
‘the audience understands what you’re talking about’. If you talk about the concerns of
the majority of people who read poetry, you are going to reach an audience
that understands what you’re talking about. I often get the impression that Larkin
deliberately lived the life that enabled him to get the poems which
would appeal to many people. This may be to over-romanticise
Larkin’s intentions here. He could have just had that
lifestyle that he had by accident, and not deliberately set out
to achieve it because he knew he would get the poems
that he wanted from that life. But it’s not beyond the
realms of possibility that Larkin’s acceptance of the
life that he led was deliberate, because it helped him
get the poems that he wanted. Larkin was a librarian
in the University of Hull. This was far from the most glamorous and
exciting job that he could have had. But, he got the poems
about that type of life. Larkin never complained
about being a librarian. It wasn’t a job that he particularly hated,
but he wasn’t overly enamoured by the sort of work that was
necessary for him to do. This isn’t to say that he was lazy. He came from a generation who,
seemingly didn’t really expect to enjoy work, and they went through it,
they got the job done, they weren’t overly happy
about what they were doing, and from this, Larkin gives us poems
about that area of human experience. The boredom of everyday life. Larkin was, or Larkin’s characters are
a very bored man, a very boring man, even his voice is boring,
his look is boring. And I don’t really mean this
in a derogatory way. I mean that he used this boredom,
this view of life to give us these beautifully observed,
wonderfully articulate poems. I think Larkin says somewhere,
‘loneliness and desperation are to me like daffodils were to Wordsworth,
for things which he sees to get inspiration from.’ So, with that in mind, let’s look
through Larkin’s 1955 poem, ‘Toads’. I’ll do the first read-through of it now,
and then we’ll analyse the way Larkin views work,
ambition to get away from work, and the effects that it has on
his character at this stage in his life. So this will be the first read-through
of Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Toads. Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life? Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off? Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison – Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion. Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers, Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers; Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket, Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
They seem to like it. Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives Are skinny as whippets – and yet
No one actually starves. Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout, Stuff your pension! But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on: 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. I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth; But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both. ‘Toads’. A toad here is being used
as a metaphor for work. Work is like a toad which
squats on your life. Larkin was asked once how he came up
with the metaphor of a toad for work, and he said,
‘sheer genius’. Whether it is an example of sheer genius
or not, I leave to you. But you can imagine the idea of it. The toad is unpleasant looking, warty,
it’s difficult to see a toad as attractive in any way,
and it’s short, fat, heavy, squat, unmovable, it’s squatting on your life as if
it’s defecating on your life. ‘Why should I let work defecate on my life?’
he asks in the first stanza of this. And remember that line,
because it will become very apparent if you look at ‘Toads Revisited’ later,
the sequel to this poem, that Larkin is to write
some 9 years later, Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life? Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off? ‘The brute’ is obviously the toad,
the toad which is work. So can’t he use his wit,
his intelligence, his cunning, I think, is one of the
connotations of wit here. Wit, intelligence and cunning – can’t he use
these to drive the brute work off his back? Or in other words, to stop work. Can he get a job using his
intelligence and cunning? ‘Use my wit as a pitchfork’. I think what he’s alluding to there
is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, whereby the monster Frankenstein is
chased by village peasants with pitchforks. That sort of image which
we see in countless horror films. Can’t I use my wit to scare work away? In other words, get a job
that I actually enjoy doing. Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison – Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion. Now, I’m sure there’s a lot of people
who work six days a week who understand that sentiment
that Larkin is giving us there. Six days a week, if you’re working
at a job that you thoroughly don’t enjoy; it defecates on your life
with its sickening poison, and you do it to pay the bills,
that’s just the wrong way round. It’s out of proportion. If it was four days a week that
you had to go to work, much better. Three days a week and then you get
four days off, much better. But six days a week that Larkin seems
to have to work in this, for the one day off that
he gets, out of proportion. And he hates his job so much,
he describes the job as ‘soiling his life’, and it is a ‘sickening poison’
it soils his life with. And ‘soils his life’
means to defecate on him. The third stanza he tells us, Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers, Losers, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers; Now, to live off their wits or
to live off your wits, the type of people that Larkin sees
as living off their wits, they all begin with ‘l’s. So there is some degree of play
in the way that he relates this. He’s having fun with words
beginning with ‘l’, because he likes the
alliteration of it, obviously. And he wants to say something
derogatory of lecturers, we assume. ‘Lecturers live off their wits’.
And this is presumably poetry lecturers in English. People like myself, actually.
Larkin didn’t like the idea of the lecturer poet. He didn’t like it because he thought
that the lecturer poet could, after a while, only write
about the idea of lecturing, and that the poet should have a real job.
Whatever that job should actually be. So that it gave him
knowledge and experience enough of the real world for him
to write about things. And he makes a solid point there, I think.
It’s a hard one to argue against. It’s often preferable for a poet
to have a real job in order for them to have experiences from that job
for them to write about in their poetry. If you are a poet lecturer, you can end up
teaching your poetry at university. And you get involved in a circle
whereby your external experience of the real world becomes so minimal that you
don’t have anything to write about. That’s me paraphrasing
Philip Larkin, incidentally. But I think it’s one of those statements
that’s true except when it isn’t. A lot of poets who write at universities
and have financed themselves through universities have written good poetry while doing so. But lecturers to Larkin are people
who ‘live off their wits’. And perhaps there’s something discreditable in this,
because all the other people who live off their wits are lispers. Lispers, I’m not so sure
what this means. Truman Capote was a relatively famous writer
at the time when this poem was written. A lisper is something who speaks
very much like that, it’s a lisp. And Capote’s voice was championed,
his voice was very famous. It’s almost as if the lisp became
part of his character and could be affected by other people. Larkin hated this type of affected behaviour. ‘Lectures, lispers, losels- ‘
a losel is just a loser. It’s a worthless person. ‘Losel, loblolly-men’ Loblolly men may mean nothing, but a loblolly boy
was like a ship’s surgeon’s assistant. And they’re always called loblolly boys. So I think the assumption there might be
that if you are a loblolly man as opposed to a loblolly boy,
you’re still assisting a ship’s surgeon when you should have a
grown up person’s job. These are the sort of people
who live off their wits, and have avoided the troubles
of the job that Larkin sees as defecating on him
for six days a week. And he notes of these people, if they are
not working, they don’t end up as paupers. I’ll read this stanza again. Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers, Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers; Louts for example are –
gangsters would be to overstate the case – but what Larkin would probably call
a lout at this stage, we may call a ‘wide boy’ now. The sort of guys who
buy and sell stuff second-hand that’s often stolen,
that sort of thing. Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket, Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
They seem to like it. What Larkin is doing here
is going through a worst-case scenario of what would happen
if he gave up his job. He’s saying, ‘there are lots of folks
with no money and they live up a lane’. This is sort of a country idea of people
with no money living up a lane in the country, sat round a bucket of fire and warming
their hands whilst they’re out of work. Tramps, gypsies, that’s the sort of thing
that Larkin is discrediting here. Because his point is that these people
who live up lanes with fires in a bucket, they eat windfalls and tinned sardines.
Tinned sardines would be very cheap food. Windfalls are- a windfall is literally
when the wind blows through an orchard and it’s legal to pick
the fruit up off the floor. That’s called a windfall. While the fruit is still on a tree,
if you remove it from a tree, that’s illegal and that’s called scrumping. But if the fruit falls on the floor,
it’s legal for you to pick it up, at least I was always told
when I was a kid. And there are guys who live off windfalls,
and they eat tinned sardines and they’re very poor, but Larkin
is looking at them and he concludes, or he adds to the observation, Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives Are skinny as whippets – and yet
No one actually starves. So their nippers are their children,
these are the sort of people who Larkin believes can’t afford shoes
for their kids’ feet, their unspeakable wives. ‘Unspeakable’ is a sort of upper-class,
English way of saying, ‘unspeakably bad’. ‘What was that man like?’
‘Oh, he’s an unspeakable individual.’ Meaning you don’t say anything about someone
unless you can say something nice, and he’s so awful
you don’t speak about him. So ‘their unspeakable wives’
means that their wives are so horrible and they are skinny as whippets.
Whippets are racing dogs, like greyhounds; often owned by the sort of people that
Larkin seems to be discrediting here. Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives Are skinny as whippets – and yet
No one actually starves. And ‘starves’ is in italics. And what he means by ‘no one actually starves’
is that their life is not that bad. It’s not as if they’re
actually starving to death. ‘So if I were to give my job up
and the worst thing was to happen, and I had to live like the
poor people that I see around me, I wouldn’t actually starve to death.’ Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout, Stuff your pension! But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on: So what he point says here is that
the wish to be brave enough to say, ‘stuff your pension’. The pension is what you get
at the end of a job. Once you’ve done your job and you’ve got-
I think during Larkin’s time, you’d be 65 years old. So you get to 65 years old and
your job is finished and the state gives you a pension,
enough to live on during your old age. And one of the reasons you
continue in a job you don’t like is to get a pension at the end of
the job to help you exist in your old age. Larkin says, ‘I wish I was
brave enough to shout to my boss, ‘stuff your pension,
I don’t want to work here anymore’.’ But he knows that he’s not going to do that. He says, ‘that’s the stuff
that dreams are made on’. Dreams, for Larkin, are made on the idea
that he could stop work and go and do the type of work
that he wants to do. So I’ll read the poem through again
up to that point, so we can see the sort of man
Larkin is portraying himself as in this poem, which is written in 1955, incidentally. So you put it in the
social context of England in 1955. Employment was not perhaps
the same as it is now, and people were expected
to have a job for life. Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life? Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off? Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison – Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion. Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers, Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers; Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket, Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
They seem to like it. Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives Are skinny as whippets – and yet
No one actually starves. Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout, Stuff your pension! But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on: And I often wonder, at this point,
how Larkin expects us to see him. Because, he certainly doesn’t come across
as a particularly pleasant individual. He’s derogatory to the
lecturers, lispers, losels – Lispers, incidentally,
could even be homosexual poets, I read once that that was
what he’s addressing in that. Homosexual poets lisping as an affectation,
which Larkin found particularly unimpressive. When he says things like,
‘they don’t end as paupers, they seem to like it,
no one actually starves’, there’s a very upper-middle class
English dismissiveness about the way he speaks here of what are essentially
the working classes that he’s addressing. ‘But they don’t starve, do they?
They don’t end as paupers. They seem to like it.’ It’s that kind of affectation
that Larkin is either adopting, or that Larkin actually felt. The unpleasantness that seems to
manifest itself in the narrator of this poem, be it Larkin or be it a Larkin persona,
it manifests a great deal of self-awareness. The guy realises a lot of about himself
and he seems to accept it. He says, for something sufficiently
toad-like squats in me, too. So there’s one toad that squats
on him, that is work. But not only does he have the
toad work squatting on his life, he has something sufficiently toad-like
that squats inside him too. And he says of this second toad: Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow I don’t usually bother to
point out mere alliteration, because anybody can notice that
a couple of words begin with the same letter. But doesn’t ‘it’s hunkers are heavy
as hard luck’ work very well? You can hear the weight of it
and the thud of the beat. Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow ‘Hunkers’ are shoulders. If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘to hunker down’,
it means to squat over like that. To hunker down. People are often described as
hunkered over the steering wheel, for example. So it’s that image. And what Larkin gets out of the image
is the idea that the toad is poised over you, holding onto you,
hunkering onto you. Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow Now, ‘cold as snow’ is the simplest and
possibly the oldest of similes, and yet when we hear the
‘as cold as snow’ in this, somehow it works. I’m not going to claim that
it’s a great simile, or an original simile, because
obviously it isn’t. It’s a cliched simile. And yet, don’t you think that it works
because we believe that Larkin has earned the right
to use that as a simile. And if he is using a simile as obvious as
‘as cold as snow’, there must be a reason for it. Now what it does for me,
apart from the fact that it sounds great with the heaviness of ‘cold as snow’,
the ‘o’ sounds in it work very nicely. But the other thing I think it does,
is it shows that, or it gives the impression that the toad has oppressed Larkin so much,
he can’t be bothered to come up with a better simile. Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow The oppression of the toad has
reduced his artistic originality so that he’s thinking
in cliches like that. Added to that fact is that
particular cliche does actually work. I don’t think it’s unfair of us to attempt to
have it for ourselves both ways. The cliche works and it is a cliche caused by
the oppression of the toad’s existence. And then after ‘cold as snow’, we get one of the
rare pieces of enjambment in the poem. Enjambement is when a stanza doesn’t end
with a full stop, it runs on into the next line. So when we read, 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. The thing which will not allow him
to blarney his way to getting the fame and the girl and the money
all at one sitting, that is the second toad, the thing which is sufficiently
toad-like which squats in him too. So let’s see what the
second toad prevents him from doing. And then let’s speculate
on what it is. Is it something that
won’t let him get fame? It won’t let him get girls,
and it won’t let him get money. It won’t let him get what he wants. Now, to ‘blarney’ means to speak,
and to speak well and eloquently. In Ireland, there’s a thing called the Blarney Stone
and whoever kisses the Blarney Stone is supposed to be able
to be a good speaker. And Larkin here wants to be able to use his voice
to get fame, the girl and the money. But he is prevented from doing this
because there is something sufficiently toad-like that squats inside him.
And what that is, the toad that squats inside him,
is a character flaw. It’s a character flaw that
makes him afraid to leave his job. It’s a certain weakness, a timidity of character,
an inability to go out and seize the new day. And Larkin knows he has this.
He acknowledges it. 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. He knows he won’t get what he wants
because of the timidity of character. The character flaw that causes him
to not be able to leave his job. And he comes up with a quite complicated
final stanza, in which he tells us: I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth; But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both. So let’s look at the second half
of that stanza first. What are the two toads
that he’s talking about? One is the toad work
which squats on his life, and the other one is the character flaw
that makes him too weak to leave the job which he doesn’t like. And he tells us, ‘it’s hard to lose
either of those if you have both of them’. It’s hard to leave a job that you don’t like,
if you have a timidity of character. And it’s hard to get rid of your own timidity
of character if you have a job you don’t like. It’s hard to lose either when you have both.
But prior to this, Larkin has told us, I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth; And I think this is a
very complicated line. Well not complicated, it’s not beyond
our capabilities to explain it, but it requires us to
look at it very carefully. Bodies in this instance means, ‘give shape to’.
It means, ‘creates’. So what Larkin is saying is, ‘I don’t believe that
one of these toads creates the other toad’. So he’s saying, ‘I don’t believe that my hatred
of my job is created by my timidity of character. And I don’t believe that my timidity of
character is created by my hatred of my job. I’ll read it again. I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth Which means, ‘I do not believe that
my hatred of my job is created by my timidity of character,
my character flaw, and I do not believe that my character flaw
is created by my hatred of my job. But I do believe it is very hard
to have a stronger character if you have a job
you really hate. And I do believe it’s really difficult
to get rid of a job you really hate if you have that timidity of character. I sometimes hear that final line,
incidentally, the ‘I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth; it’s as if he’s addressing a psychiatrist there.
It’s the way a psychiatrist would say to him, ‘the reason you don’t like your job is because
you have this timidity of character.’ And Larkin’s saying, ‘no I don’t really
think that that’s the case. It’s just difficult for me
to get through that job, whilst I have these
feelings about it.’ This particular poem was written
very early in Larkin’s career – in 1955, when he was 33 years old. Later on in his career,
some nine years later, Larkin is going to write a sequel
about this poem called ‘Toads Revisited’, where he will speculate
on the fact that he- what would happen if he did
leave his job and he was free to do what he wanted to do. And we’ll look at that poem
in another Mycroft lecture. The idea behind this one
is that Larkin has a job he despises doing, but he realises that he is
too cowardly to leave that job. And because of this,
he will never get the things that he wanted. And yet, and here is the big
‘and yet’ for this poem. Remember it is written early on
in his poetic career. Larkin, as I said earlier,
wanted to be a poet who was understood by people, so he wrote about and for
the people who lived this sort of life, primarily because a lot of people
who read poetry live- if they don’t live this sort of life,
they have days like this. We all have days like this. Now, Larkin may not get
the fame, the girl, and the money. But what he does get is the poem. The interrogation of the experience
which he does in this poem, in ‘Toads’, gets the poem which we read.
And the poem itself has become justifiably famous. When Larkin says he won’t get the fame,
well actually he did get the fame. He won’t get the girl – Larkin had a lot more women
than a lot of people give him credit for. And Larkin’s financial needs were relatively slight.
He wasn’t one of life’s big spenders. So we could argue that the poem
demonstrates that he got the poem; not only that, later on in his life,
he got the money, the girl, and certainly the fame. In as far as a man for whom
desperation and loneliness are as daffodils are to Wordsworth
would wish to have those things. Ok, I’ll read the poem through one more time.
This is Philip Larkin’s ‘Toads’. Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life? Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off? Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison – Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion. Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers, Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers; Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket, Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
They seem to like it. Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives Are skinny as whippets – and yet
No one actually starves. Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout, Stuff your pension! But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on: 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. I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth; But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both. That was the Mycroft Online Lecture on
Philip Larkin’s 1955 poem, ‘Toads’. I am Dr. Andrew Barker. Thank you, goodbye.

27 thoughts on “Philip Larkin – Toads – Poetry Lecture and Analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker

  1. I don't think you're wrong in any way to pinpoint the 2nd toad as primarily relating to the speaker's timidity of character – the line about the 2nd toad follows closely on from his announcement that he's afraid to quit his job. But to me it also represents the snobbery of a middle class white collar worker looking down on the lower classes. For me that sense of superiority, or 'class' he has, is also part of the 2nd toad – an ugly side to his character, the side you spoke of when you discussed the persona as not being likeable much. Toad #2 is some kind of middle class curse; it represents, as you say, his timidity, his fear of abandoning the middle class lest the dream to use his wit in pursuit of money fame and sex fails and he ends up in the working class crowd, but also that disgust he feels towards the working class – that too is part of toad no. 2.

  2. You probably know this, but what you're mentioning here, the disdain for the working class the 'middle class curse,' while apparent and true, manifests itself much more blatantly in Toads Revisited, than it does here I think. The "lecturers, losels and loblolly etc" have become the "palsied old step takers" and "hare-eyed clerks with the jitters" by that stage. At least there is some . . . vitality in this poem that Larkin sees in the characters he is setting himself against. A fact that doesn't really negate what you're saying, does it? Perhaps there is more envy seen here than is manifest later, in Revisited, where the "them" are certainly viewed with disgust, even fear?

  3. He also said – "Poetry is nobody's business except the poets, and everybody else can fuck off."

  4. Andrew, I love that these lectures exist but sometimes I feel the obvious parts are over explained. This can sometimes drag (and must for any level or age). I prefer discussion to explination, there is a fine line between the two I think. Explaining a joke kills the joke. This is true to poetry also I think. Otherwise, thank you.

  5. The poet is using 'Toad' as a metaphor to his work at first. The image that I can get when I hear the word 'toad' is ugly, big, dull and crouching with huge feet. I don't really get why the poet would chose toad to describe his work because it is not the ugliest animal, but it works for me that it's crouching with huge and bulky body upon a rock in a sense that him pushing and almost squeezing Philip's life. The poet whines about his mundane, boring, and heavy work load and even compares his life with other people who he considers people who live depending on their wits not any special endeavor or ability. Also, he also says that other people who are unspeakably poor do not even look that bad than he would thought. It seems like he will confess that he wants to live like folks living on their wits or living up lanes with fires in a bucket because their lives aren't that bad, however, he says that he has something inner toads in himself which squats him too and never allows him to get fame, girls, and the money. You mentioned that this second toad is a character flaw that makes him too weak to leavee the job he doesn't like. However, if that is the case, why would his timidity won't let him to get fame, girl, and money? Is it because his real occupation was just a mundane librarian? For me, it sounds like his inner unconscious perception of typical middle class people which he doesn't yet face like even if he sees the people living on their wits and living poorly not that bad, he still thinks it's better to work and have a decent job(even though it is not a high-income job).

  6. The speaker is a very complicated person. I can see his pride through the way he describe people who live on the street, but he also knows he is not a decent person who can get girl, money, and fame. He hates his work, but I do not think he hates the way he lives. If he really hates the timidity of him that prevents him from quitting his job, he will not border to mention how ignoble he sees people who live on the street without purpose and being satisfied just by keeping himself from hunger.
    I think he is saying that being ordinary is a choice of him. It is not the job that causes his timidity; he acknowledges humdrumness as part of his nature and that is also a kind of experience that he can talk about in poetry and appeal to specific kind of readers because most people live an ordinary life.

  7. I believe that is something working classes would say or relate to when they are working. It is like an ugly toad that is crushing their life. They did not like their works but they are too afraid to leave it. I really like the 2 and 6 stanzas. They were complaining about their jobs which was very common to people that work for a living. Because, come on, how many people get to choose a job that they like and they can work the hell out of it?

    I can see why the poet disliked his work as a librarian because it was boring and reptitive, and his artistic knowledge would not be well in use. But yet this job gave his time to write poems. I can see his flaws in his character as he was looking down on people, which is the 2nd toad. He held a upper-middle class attitude to examine his lower classes. But he also hated people that had better jobs than him like universities' lecturers. That is his character flaws. But he was not a coward that was scared to leave his job. Although he disliked his work, I think he believed it was better to work and earn a living rather than not. I also believe that the last stanza was addressing to himself. He knew what was wrong about his job but he also know what was wrong about himself. But he knew that he would not change so as his job.

    But I really want to ask why he would choose to be a liberian. Given his status and qualifications, why did not he choose to be a unversity lecturer? I think he did not hate the idea of being a lecturer, he just dislked other people doing these jobs instead of him.

  8. I feel like this poem describes most people in the society right now who lacks the courage to get rid of the first toad, as rather than timidity, it is more of the fear of letting go of the life he had at that time. And personally I wouldn't blame him as aren't we all the same.
    about the word "starves", rather than about starving to the point of death, I think he is talk of the mind and not physically, as I think it is connected to the last stanza, especially "they seem to like it." If they are skinny as whippets, considering it is just an exaggeration, they have to be starving, but here he is saying they aren't. If he is comparing these homeless people to people living on the wits, it would seem to him, at least the homeless people are at least better than the lecturers. He didn't use any derogatory words to describe the paupers, but he is saying they seem to be pretty happy despite their living conditions. Yet this may be what solidifies his second toad.

  9. I like the way Larkin wrote and expressed his feelings explicitly. Perhaps this is just Larkin's writing style but I would rather refer this way of writing to the statement that he made about writing poetry. He stated that the reader of the poem needs to understand the idea for a poem to work. He in between lines expressed his own feelings explicitly so that the readers would be able to make sense of what the writer was thinking in the poem. Compared to those poems that create ambiguity, I think Larkin wrote in a way that is more reader-friendly, but that may not be the only way that makes poetry works indeed.

  10. When I read this poem, I’m interesting about the title “toads”. Toads give me the feeling which is ugly and repulsive. why he uses “toads” to be the title and the core of this poem?
    First, He uses plural form, that’s mean he is analyzing different kind of “toads”. I think one is that he wants to say the cruelty and ugliness of work, the verb “squat” also could understood as negative. and “with its sickening poison” he wants to emphasize that those “uglies” are contagious. And the other one is the connotations by toads, he thinks it is kind of “spiritual truth”. He thinks he is bound by these “toads”, he tried to escape from them, but he realizes if he wants to get “the fame and the girl and the money”,he will never be able to get these things without succumbing to the poison of the toad.

  11. The poet calls work something as repulsive as a toad.He wishes to get rid of its clutches. The work has killed his creativity and he feels imprisoned.The poet rues the fact that he does not have the courage to quit the job because he fears insecurity. He is afraid of losing the comforts of his present life. In the last stanza, he believes that if you have work and have the need to work, you will never be able to rid yourself of a working lifestyle or that little voice inside you that makes you want to have a stable jobs and a plain, routine lifestyle.

  12. I am quite impressed that Philip Larkin uses the toad to describe the job as toad’s image is a repulsive little being; a ugly and even disgusting animal. At first glance, he seems to be hate working simply only for money. In fact, there are in total two roads appear throughout the entire poem. The first one appears in the first stanza while another one appears in the eighth stanza. For me, the first toad refers to those boring jobs, which have the fixed schedules and routines. Put simply, what the workers do in such position is quite repetitive. It seems that there are some external factors that force them to work and they do not want to do that. They have no choice but to work if they want to have a relatively decent life. After reading the poem, I might understand that why Philip Larkin does not like his work as a librarian as it is quite boring and work routinely without any challenge and excitement. What matter the most is that most of people would lose their interest of their job if he or she cannot apply all his passions, knowledge and skills into practice. Though he does not like his job, he has to face the cruel reality and to earn a considerate income to maintain his daily lives. As a result, he cannot leave his job because he will lose his income. Sadly, nearly all of us might share the same case as Philip’s in today society. In addition, you have mentioned that the second toad indeed is a character flaw that make him afraid to leave his job. It seems that he knows that he actually does not like his job, however, he just cannot make up his mind to leave his job since something inside him has prevented him from doing so. I agree that we might all work in pursuit of success, fame, money and all other things we desire for such as girls. That is, each of us have the interior or personal prompting to work. I just cannot figure out why he claims that he will never able to get those kind of things because of his inner tumor. Last, I think most of us do not like to work from 9 to 5 simply to earn the money to support our expense. Maybe one day we might discover that we are not working for our dreams and passion or just do what the job we like, but we just fail to make to decision to leave that kind of job. Even if there is no ‘exterior toad’, the interior one would prevent us from doing this.

  13. Even though he is working as a librarian, which is boring and killing his passion in work, for me he still gets some spare time to write poems and sustains a life of an upper-middle class family living standard. It is not bad at all. I think he is quite pessimistic because I guess there were more people suffering in a worse condition of lives than his. If he could not get satisfaction his job, he can switch his attention to other things that he really likes like writing poems or perhaps doing sport. Therefore, this poem undoubtedly is a nice articulated poem which uses toads as metaphors referring to work, but I just cannot agree the pessimistic feelings and the reasons of them.

  14. Just out of curiosity… if he really did leave the job as an Liberian and find another job that he liked, he could still get a pension from that job, right? So why not do it? This poem sounds whiny to me. He is in a safe position, not having to worry about money, and he is looking at a lower class and write this poem. He supposes poor people should have bad lives, but from his observation they do not, he seems to envy the okay lives they are having because at least they seem to be happy ("they seem to like it"). The way he looks down on the lower class and his labelling are more out of proportions than the boring working life that he has.

  15. Larkin didn't choose the life he did to feed his poetry. If he did, it was a pretty arid 'source', given how little poetry he produced over his lifetime. My sense is that he was strait jacketed by his life. He seemed to be – as Martin Amis, a close observer if not friend, observed, 'stuck in neutral'. The poetry arose from that as a natural consequence, but it certainly doesn't seem to have been a calculated choice.

  16. I am a graduate and a PhD of the University of Hull and I knew Philip Larkin. He was a formidableand forbidding man. I was scared of him. His ominous visage was frightening. But he had – let's face it – a cosy, comfortable middle-class existence as Librarian. For better or for worse. Despite his myriad protestations, he CHOSE to be a Librarian and to move to Hull. And DESPITE his bewailing a sombre existence, he had the luxury and the freedom to write. He was a Moaning Minnie.

  17. In the first poem, Larkin rails against the Toad Work, without which he would be free to pursue a life remunerated only from the rewards of his wits. In the second, he has a warmer though still cold view of work, in that those he observes who do not work are somehow forced into idleness. Larkin is an alcoholic. What he is telling us, through unwritten, is that without work, and without the required sobriety to be able to attend to work he would become in all senses impotent through drink. The discipline of timetabled work is therefore his only saviour from death, the thing by which he is most tormented. Yet he resents the fact that it is only the Toad Work that prevents him from drinking himself to death; not his own self-discipline, or perhaps the love of a woman, of which he knows he has neither. Larkin goes to work with half a bottle of sherry inside him, such is the lot of a particular binary kind of man: the fine balance of drink and work, work and drink: in Larkin’s case the minimum amount of work that allows for the maximum amount of drink without tipping the balance such that either is fatal, creatively or physically. To Larkin, work is something to be endured so that it gives him a couple of relatively sober hours of an evening in which to write before he becomes too drunk to do so. Without work he knows he would be drunk by lunchtime and from day to day would be able to do nothing. Nor should we see Larkin’s posturing in these two poems as arrogantly or even solipsisticallly heroic, since we are all possessed by demons that without enforced discipline would kill us. I know my demons and the disciplines that constrain them. Do you? Larkin knew his, which I think are the point of these poems. The Toad is the hegemony that he both hates but that he knows keeps him alive. No, Larkin is not being honest with us in these poems; but then, truly honest poetry is not poetry at all or if it is, it is crushingly dull.

  18. And clearly sir, you are a man of no match. The way you teach is just amazing….. Thanks for being such a nice mentor for us…..

  19. Thankyou so much for this. I would have failed my exam had you not posted this lecture. . Thanks a ton

  20. He is talking of most of friends who hate their jobs but complain but stay for the pension.

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