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?
Our speaker doesn't waste any time introducing us to this toad he mentions in the title. He also makes it super-clear that we're not talking about one of those cute, little Pixar-type toads. Nope. This guy is a "brute."
Oh yeah, we should also probably mention that he's not actually talking about a real toad. Larkin uses the toad as an extended metaphor for work and obligation.
And the speaker isn't talking about the kind of fulfilling work that we all imagine our adult lives will be filled with. This is dreary, soul-sucking work. It squats on his life like a big, fat, slimy toad, making everything miserable and gross.
That word "squat" is part of what creates this feeling. It just isn't very pleasant. It doesn't sound very nice, and it doesn't conjure up many pleasant images. "Hop," "jump," "sit," "perch"—these words all seem downright delicate compared with "squat."
The poem starts with two questions.
First, the speaker wonders why he has to let work ruin his life. Fair question, right?
In the second, the speaker seems to be searching for a solution. He wonders if, perhaps, he can use his "wit," his street smarts, as a weapon against this toad work.
What do you think, Shmoopers? Can wit win out over work? Read on to find out.
When you first read this stanza, did your special poetry Spidey-senses start to tingle? If not, that's okay, because ours did and we'll tell you why.
It's all about those end words. Notice anything unusual? We are used to seeing end words that rhyme, but these end words don't quite rhyme. They have a similar look or some similar sounds, but there just isn't that good ol' full rhyme feeling.
So, was Larkin just a really bad rhymer? Nope. He's using something called slant rhyme, or half rhyme. Why not just make the words rhyme in the usual, full rhyme way? Good question. If you just have to know right this second, jump ahead to the "Form and Meter" section (and also, work on your patience).
For right now, just keep your ears open for more of this half-rhyme stuff.