Study Guide

Toads Stanza 6

By Philip Larkin

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Stanza 6

Lines 21-24

Ah, were I courageous enough
      To shout
Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
      That dreams are made on:

  • Now, the speaker wishes he had the courage to take some action.
  • He wishes he had the guts to tell his boss to go jump in a lake: "To shout Stuff your pension!" But he knows he doesn't.
  • He seems to know that, for him, that kind of action is just a fantasy, a dream, something he knows just isn't going to happen.
  • But why can't he do it? Some people certainly do. What's keeping this guy from living the dream?
  • That colon at the end of line 24 lets us know he's going to elaborate on that very topic in the next stanza.
  • And speaking of line 24, did it sound familiar? If you've been studying your Shakespeare, you might have noticed that this line echoes one of Prospero's lines (IV.i.156-157) from The Tempest.
  • Just like the line from The Tempest, line 24 signals the speaker's acceptance of reality. In the case of "Toads," the speaker suddenly understands that, while a work-free life is nice to fantasize about, in reality it just isn't in the cards.
  • Referencing The Tempest works in a broader sense, too. The character Gonzalo's views on an ideal society sound pretty much like what Larkin is after: "No occupation; all men idle, all; / and women too…" Sounds pretty good, right? Want to hear Gonzalo's whole rant? Shmoop has got you covered.
  • Now, we know what you're thinking: "Isn't poetry tough enough without poets like Larkin sneaking Shakespeare references into their verse?" Fair point. Think of it this way: it's kind of like using a literary time machine. Let us explain:
  • By making a connection between the ideas and emotions in his modern poem and the ideas and emotions in one of Shakespeare's plays, Larkin is able to create a sense of universality and timelessness. There is a connection between our time and the past.
  • The problem of a work-dominated existence and the associated loss of freedom becomes simultaneously the speaker's issue and an issue we all face, and have faced, stretching back to Shakespeare and his characters. This connection gives some emotional weight and resonance to these ideas.
  • Plus, it's always nice to know you're not alone—as an individual struggling with an issue, or as a society.

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