Toads by Philip Larkin

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.


The poet, describing his work as a toad, asks why he should allow this toad to become a burden on his life. He would like to use his wit or intelligence to fling this toad away in order to get rid of it. This toad makes the six working days of every week of his life miserable; and he has to endure this toad (or his work or his official duties) just to pay a few bills or to meet his routine expenses. And even the money, which he gets for enduring this toad, is too little for the amount of work which he has to do.The poet then says that there are many people in this world who do not have to work, and who maintain themselves merely by using their wits. There are lecturers; there are persons who speak in an affected manner to impress others; there are the never-do-wells; there are the idlers, and others like them. All such persons manage to exist in this world without becoming paupers. There are many other people, like the gypsies, who have no homes and who therefore live in temporary structures or in tents in the town-lanes, lighting their fires in buckets (because they do not have any regular kitchens). Such people eat just what they get by sheer chance, or they eat tinned sardines, and they seem to like this way of living.Such people’s children go about bare-foot because they cannot afford shoes. The men-folk among these people have wretched wives who are as thin as a race-dog. In spite of their poverty,these people manage to exist in the world without starving.

The poet wishes that he had enough courage to throw up his job and to tell his employers to keep with them the pension which he would earn if he continues to work till the age of retirement. But he cannot leave his job because he knows that to lead a life without work is something which he can only dream about, and not actually adopt. He cannot spurn his job because there is something within him which also is a kind of toad, but which forces him to continue working. This toad-like creature,dwelling within him, has a heavy bottom, and is so demanding and stern that the poet cannot resist it.This inner toad, or this inner urge to work, would not even allow him to use persuasion or flattery in order to achieve his desire for fame, to marry the girl whom he loves, and to get the money which he needs for his food and other expenses. Of course, he cannot affirm that the toad outside him is an embodiment of the toad-like creature inside him. In other words, the toad outside does not personify his inner urge to work. The toad outside forces him to work; and his conscience within him also urges him to work. But the two compulsions are of different kinds. And it is difficult for him to get rid of either of these compelling forces. The two forces exist side by side, leaving him no choice except to work.

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