Toads and Toads Revisited are poems in Philip Larkin’s collection that describes both the perks and burdens of a work life. Larkin’s view of work in ‘Toads’ is seen as a heavy load whereas in ‘Toads Revisited’, it is seen as something that keeps him occupied and helps him though life. ‘Toads Revisited’ was written after Larkin became a firmly established chief librarian of the Hull Library and he had no further to go because he had already reached the top position. His attitude to work had undergone subtle changes from eight years ago to Toads Revisited. In this poem, Larkin has managed to escape from the monotony of his desk, perhaps during lunch or break. He takes a walk around the park where he observes and sees more than he expects which triggers memories of the toad that used to squat on him. Written eight years apart, the two poems reflect a sense of loneliness combined with the change in Larkin’s attitude towards work and how it helped him later in life rather than hinder him. In ‘Toads’, Larkin opens with a rhetorical question with an image of an unpleasant toad squatting on his life. ‘Squatting’ is an unsophisticated and an almost primitive position to be in. Larkin compares the work load he gets with a ‘toad’ which squats on his life as if to defecate on him and ‘waste’ his time. The use of a simile in using his ‘wit as a pitchfork’ suggests an idea of poking to toad to try and get it to move from his life.
The toad is described as a ‘brute’ who bullies him by giving him loads of work just to make his life miserable. The idea of him working six days a week and only having one day off for rest indicates how this was a long time ago where people worked longer. The sibilance in the first two lines of the second stanza suggests a hissing sound over his life and the slyness of the toad. The hyphen indicates a sudden halt where he contemplates the fact that he has been poisoned with work by this toad. Juxtaposition is incorporated in the second stanza. Larkin refers to ‘toads’, ‘pitchforks’ and ‘poison’ which relate to a supernatural presence and are associated with witchcraft. However, he then goes on to state ‘paying a few bills’ which returns the descriptions back to reality. The exclamation mark illustrates Larkin’s exasperation over how working unbelievably hard six days a week is not worth ‘paying a few bills’. Larkin describes this as ‘out of proportion’. Larkin’s play on the alliteration of ‘L’ in the third stanza somehow makes the stanza sound ludicrous. The use of lists that Larkin uses suggests how there’s a lot of people in the world who rely on their common sense to earn a living. He himself writes poetry which is a contrast and he mocks the Hull University ‘lecturers’.
They do not necessarily do anything, they only have to speak and spread the word to earn money. People who are ‘louts’ and unsophisticated, uneducated yobs never end up as ‘paupers’. They always tend to have enough money to feed themselves and a family without having a toad squatting over their life. Larkin compares this to his own life where he doesn’t just rely on his ‘wits’ to earn a living but still has a ‘toad’ that sits on his head like a heavy load of work waiting to be done. The dash at the end of ‘lout’ indicates and ongoing list of people who live off their ‘wits’ without actually doing anything. The repetition of ‘lots of folk’ suggests how there are so many people who don’t have a toad shadowing their life and yet continue to live. They live up ‘lanes’ which are not glamorous areas, they scavenge and eat the cheapest, long lasting foods available such as ‘tinned sardines’. The dash indicates the endless list of their cost reduction techniques which they seem to enjoy so not mind having to sacrifice so much in their lives. Furthermore, they cannot afford to buy their children shoes, their wives are as skinny as greyhounds, probably from malnutrition but nonetheless, no one starves. Larkin’s use of strong vocabulary such as ‘windfalls’, ‘nippers’ and ‘whippets’ suggests how he is accustomed with the street dialect.
The use of harsh language suggests the harshness of life on these streets. The word ‘starves’ between two underscores adds emphasis and that people go hungry but no one goes through starvation. Larkin also does not hide the idea that his hard work goes to pensioners. The idea of shouting ‘stuff your pension!’ is a rather disrespectful thought towards elderly people, enhanced by the exclamation marks. However, Larkin uses a quote from Shakespearean literature, ‘the stuff that dreams are made on’ from the Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1 spoken as part of Prospero’s ‘resignation speech’ refers to a scenario can only be fantasised and wished. “Stuff” refers to the materials that go into creating an illusion, not to the object of a wish. Regardless of his complains, Larkin understands and knows that something ‘toad-like’ exists in him as well and ‘squats’ within himself. Larkin’s play on the alliteration of ‘h’ suggests the sound of heaving and heaviness. The toad in him will never allow him to ‘blag’ his way through getting all the things he wants in life. He is never going to be able to shake off work because of this toad in him that drives him to continue doing mundane tasks every day. He knows he will be constantly discontent and dissatisfied with his life.
With one toad sitting on his life and the other sitting inside him, Larkin states that the ‘spiritual’ truth of either truth is embodied by the other and that it is ‘hard to lose either, when you have both.’ In Larkin’s case, it was not just difficult to manage both toads but it was impossible to continue without them and Larkin would not have been Larkin without his toads. ‘Toads’ involves nine four line stanzas with an ABAB half rhyme scheme with an occasional true rhyme giving the poem an effect of limited structure yet uncertainty running through it. ‘Toads Revisited’ also involves 9 stanzas with 4 lines each and uses half rhymes occasionally uses a complete rhyme. It also has a different rhyme scheme in comparison to ‘Toads’, it is AABB instead of ABAB. In ‘Toads Revisited’, Larkin would think that being able to walk freely round this park would feel much better than sitting at his desk. ‘The lake, the sunshine, the grass to lie on’, a power of three is used to enhance the relaxing atmosphere that nature brings to Larkin. The alliterative effect of ‘b’ in ‘Blurred…Beyond black-stockinged’ suggests the effect that blocking noise from the surroundings have. He begins to notice life around him and he thinks it is ‘not a bad place to be’ but it still doesn’t ‘suit’ him. Larkin cannot imagine being one of those ‘men’ who are old, ‘hare-eyed clerks’ with unstable jobs, ‘jitters’ who are alcoholics, drug addicts or war-wounded people.
He cannot think of being one of those ‘waxed-fleshed’ people whose wounds are still ‘vague’ and have just left hospital or being a person in a ‘long coat’, often tramps or hobos who walk around scavenging for food. He believes they are all skipping their share of the toad squatting on their lives by ‘being stupid or weak’. In ‘Toads’, Larkin listed the people who might be non-workers and here, he reflects his exasperation by building up a list or the type of people in the park at this time. Able people should be at work; they have no reason to be walking around in a park. ‘Think of being them!’ suggests how Larkin views their life much easier in comparison to his and he tells us to imagine life as them. However, he contradicts this by stating ‘Hearing the hours chime’, using alliteration of ‘h’ which highlights the boredom and mundaneness in their lives. It is like time just goes on and on and all the people walking around the park, who are not economically active, wait for the hours to go by. Small events such as the ‘bread [being] delivered’ and the ‘children going home’ are used as time markers which these people use to tell what part of the day it is. Each day as the hours pass, they wait for the next tie marker to arrive and carry on with a life where they do nothing.
The sun being covered by ‘clouds’ produces a soft alliterative effect combined with assonance which portrays how slowly time passes. It passes slow enough for these people to watch the clouds pass the sun and cover it with clouds. The repetition of ‘Think of being them’ suggests how Larkin actually feels pity towards these people. A very Larkin sentence is incorporated in the seventh paragraph, ‘turning over their failures’ by a common garden bed of ‘lobelias’, common flowers. In this stanza, Larkin reflects a hint of loneliness; ‘nowhere to go but indoors’ and ‘no friends but empty chairs’ where juxtaposition is used in a blue, lonely manner to represent the solitude that Larkin may have been experiencing. Nonetheless, Larkin really valued the moments of his career which he describes in the eighth stanza. He enjoyed being asked for things and enjoyed the company of his ‘loaf-haired’ secretary. The hyphens between the words ‘shall-I-keep-the-call-in-Sir’ illustrate repetition and is perhaps something Larkin heard almost every day. Regardless of how irritating it may have been at the time, he still prefers to be in the position he currently is in rather than be one of the people in the park. In the last stanza, Larkin mentions ‘lights come on at four’ which indicates the time of the year when the light have to be switched on by four in the afternoon. It begins to get darker earlier and this perhaps symbolises how close death is becoming.
The idea of Larkin asking the toad for his ‘arm’ to lean on to is like an old friend who is willing to help him walk down the road. The path he is taking is down to the end of ‘Cemetery Road’ and essentially, to death. He understands he requires support and he realises that the toad was not all bad. Although in ‘Toads’, the toad may have squatted on his life but now, it was there to help him through his life. Overall, Larkin’s sudden yet subtle changes of his ideas of work were mainly due to these experiences. Both poems continue to represent the toad as something revolting and filthy. However, in ‘Toads Revisited’’, Larkin begins to realise that a life which involved a lot of hard work and a toad squatting over his life was not all bad. Without the toad in himself and the toad squatting on his life, he would have been like the people in the park, a lifestyle that would not have suited him.
Courtney from Study Moose
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