Toads Revisited (with Hancock)

August 23, 2009 at 8:42 pm (cinema, comedy, Jim D, literature, workers)

Back to work tomorrow. I’ve had two very pleasant weeks  of dossing about and visiting nice places like Ludlow and the Forest of Deane (both thoroughly recommended). Sadly, I narrowly missed the Severn bore. Anyway, now it’s back to work. Larkin had the right idea. Twice: first, this; then (probably more appropriate to me), the following:

Walking around in the park
Should feel better than work:
The lake, the sunshine,
The grass to lie on,

Blurred playground noises
Beyond black-stockinged nurses –
Not a bad place to be.
Yet it doesn’t suit me.

Being one of the men
You meet of an afternoon:
Palsied old step-takers,
Hare-eyed clerks with the jitters,

Waxed-fleshed out-patients
Still vague from accidents,
And characters in long coats
Deep in the litter-baskets –

All dodging the toad work
By being stupid or weak.
Think of being them!
Hearing the hours chime,

Watching the bread delivered,
The sun by clouds covered,
The children going home;
Think of being them,

Turning over their failures
By some bed of lobelias,
Nowhere to go but indoors,
Nor friends but empty chairs –

No, give me my in-tray,
My loaf-haired secretary,
My shall-I-keep-the-call-in-Sir:
What else can I answer,

When the lights come on at four
At the end of another year?
Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.

(‘Toads Revisited’, from ‘The Whitsun Weddings’).

Hancock understood as well:


  1. Rosie said,

    Toads Revisited is fantastic about work and sanity. I was talking to a guy the other day who was sitting by a phone waiting for agency work that wasn’t coming in and you could see that him not being in the ordinary mainstream of life, which is work, was driving him off his head.

    As for the other poem, the last verse:-

    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.

    What is the “one” and what is “the other”? I’ve always found that last verse puzzling.

    • Michael O`Donnell said,

      In Larkin`s `Toads`, in the final stanza, the `one` is the toad-like compulsion to a life of paid-work, whilst `the other` is the equally repressive part of his own psyche, to which the first is a kind of counterpart.

      • Rosie said,

        So a way of paraphrasing the last verse would be:-

        Going to work, however time-consuming and unpleasant, is an expression of my repressed and timid personality. If I lost my work, my personality wouldn’t be expressed. If I lost the repressed and timid personality, work would be unendurable. So they fit together. Yeah, I’d buy that. Very elegantly put by Larkin, in his best rueful style.

  2. sackcloth and ashes said,

    Hope you had a good break, Jim. I spent mine in Brecon, which I recommend (if you haven’t been already).

  3. Jim Denham said,

    Rosie: very good point about the last verse of ‘Toads’: I don’t understand it, either, though that doesn’t prevent my appreciation of the poem. I presume “the other / One’s” is some sort of contrast between the toad (“its hunkers are heavy as hard luck”) and “The fame and the girl and the money”, but beyond that I’m lost.

    I did enjoy this, though:
    Interviewer: “How did you arrive at the image of a toad for work or labour?”
    Larkin: Sheer genius.”

    Sackcloth: thanks for your good wishes. I shall bear Brecon in mind for the future. I was there for the jazz festival a couple of years ago and liked the area, but didn’t really get to know it properly – for various reasons associated with jazz festivals.

  4. Eskimo Sue R said,

    Having read the poem, I would like to suggest that Larkin is talking about his contradictory attitude towards (alienated) labour. On the one hand he envies the feckless workingclass who live on windfalls and tinned sardines and heat themselves with coals in a bucket, but on the other hand, the Puritan workethic is too deeply entrenched within his breast. It seems to me that he is saying that he cannot resolve this contradiction between duty, work and life lived moment by moment, he would dearly love to come down on one side of the debate (to live without being forced to perform tasks) or to enjoy his sense of obligation but, rather like those optical illusions that change as you look at them, he is unable to do so. I could be wrong, but that is the only way that I can see of making sense of it.

  5. Jim Denham said,

    Eskimo Sue: By George, I think you’ve got it!

  6. Things Tell Less and Less « Shiraz Socialist said,

    […] 19, 2009 at 10:30 am (Rosie B, literature) A few weeks ago there was a discussion on this site about the meaning of the last verse of Larkin’s poem, Toads, which I had always found […]

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