Study Guide

Toads Stanza 5

By Philip Larkin

Stanza 5

Lines 17-20

Their nippers have got bare feet,
      Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets—and yet
      No one actually
starves.

  • In the fifth stanza, we delve deeper into the lives of those "folk that live up lanes." 
  • Their "nippers" (their kids) run around with bare feet, presumably because they can't afford shoes.
  • Their wives are in such bad shape that the speaker describes them as "unspeakable." The only detail he offers is that they are skinny. Apparently, the windfall fruit and sardine diet doesn't exactly pack on the pounds.
  • How skinny are they? Well, Larkin uses a simile to get that point across. They are, "skinny as whippets." A whippet is a super-skinny dog breed similar to a greyhound. 
  • Families so poor that they can't afford shoes or enough food don't seem like very positive images. But the speaker, always looking on the bright side (bright?), ends the stanza by pointing out that as bad as all this seems, these folks manage to get by without suffering the indignity of work.
  • Sure, things might be tough but "no one actually starves."
  • Hmm. Our idea of getting by is very different than Mr. Larkin's. We like to have enough cash for, at the very least, a steady supply of ramen noodles and some retro-stylish secondhand footware.

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