by Philip Larkin
In A Nutshell
Have you ever felt like work and obligations take up waaayyy to much of your time? Like your entire life is spent toiling away at tasks that have little or nothing to do with who you are or what you really want to do with your life? If you are shaking your head violently up and down in an affirming manner, then you know just how the speaker in Philip Larkin's poem "Toads" feels.
In "Toads," the speaker struggles to figure out why he lives a life dominated by work, and he wonders if, perhaps, there's another way. Spoiler Alert: for this speaker, there isn't. Bummer.
Larkin wrote a lot about sadness and feeling unfulfilled, so "Toads" is the kind of poem we'd expect. Larkin once famously said, "I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, […] most people are unhappy, don't you think?" So, if you're looking for unicorns and rainbows, Larkin is not your guy.
"Toads" was included in Larkin's 1955 book, The Less Deceived. Although he had previously published another book of poetry (The North Ship) and two novels, The Less Deceived was the book that put Larkin on the poetry map. Larkin's tone and style seemed to resonate with his post- war, English audience.
Today, Larkin is considered by many to be one of the finest English poets of the twentieth century. He died in 1985 at the age of sixty-three. Phil didn't turn out tons of poems in his life, but what he did write is still being read in high schools, colleges, and coffee shops by folks who think his work is just toad-ally awesome. (Um, sorry.)
Why Should I Care?
Homework. Tests. SATs. Homework. Yeah, we said homework twice. There's that much. Shmoop knows all about it. It's a pretty safe bet that, at one time or another, you've felt like work and obligations take up just about all your time. Sometimes, it gets to the point where it seems like you don't have any time to spend on the stuff you actually want to do. Is this any way to live? Well, that's exactly the question posed in Philip Larkin's poem, "Toads." That question leads the speaker to wonder why he doesn't just walk away from it all—and that's where things get interesting.
Why don't most of us just walk away from expectations and obligations? Some people do. But most of us don't. We complain about it. Sure. But we don't quit. Why? What keeps you coming back for more? Is it a positive force or a negative one? Does it really matter as long as the work gets done and you achieve your goals? This poem gives us the chance to ask some of these big questions and to consider how the answers affect the way we live our lives. So hop on in gang. (And no, we won't stop with the toad-related puns. They're just too much fun.)