Study Guide

Toads Stanza 3

By Philip Larkin

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Stanza 3

Lines 9-12

Lots of folk live on their wits:
      Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts—
      They don't end as paupers;

  • Stanza 3 begins with the speaker's answer to the question he posed back in stanza 1 when he wondered if he could use his "wit" as a way to get out from under all that work.
  • He gives us a list of people that "live on their wits," and it's a pretty odd bunch.
  • "Lecturers"? Okay, that makes a certain amount of sense. They make a living using brains rather than brawn. Being a lowly lecturer might not be as glamorous or as profitable as being a highfalutin' professor, but it certainly isn't digging ditches for a living either. 
  • Lispers? Remember, this poem was written way back in the 1950s. Someone with a serious speech impediment would have a tough time securing a job to provide a decent living. So, they might have to come up with some kind of alternative way to survive, getting by "on their wits."
  • Finally, we have "losels," "loblolly-men," and "louts." Um. What? Don't panic. Shmoop is here. If these words don't sound familiar it's because they are from a little known Middle-earth dialect. Just kidding. These are all English words, but they aren't very common.
  • A "losel" is a worthless person, a real good-for-nothing kind of a guy—definitely not boyfriend material. Don't even think about bringing this one home for dinner. He'd likely steal the silverware.
  • "Loblolly" refers to a clownish or foolish kind of person and a "lout" is an offensive kind of a fellow, as in the phrase "drunken lout." Both of these guys are more likely to con or clown their ways though life than they are to work for a living.
  • The speaker ends the stanza by saying all these people that "live on their wits" manage to survive. They are not "paupers."
  • They manage to get by without work taking up most of their lives.
  • Notice anything familiar about the cast of characters in this stanza? Yup, they all start with the letter L. In the poetry biz, we call that alliteration. Check out "Sound Check" for more on that. 
  • All those L words also emphasize the idea that they are all on the same team—all living the same way, avoiding work.

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