Study Guide

Toads Cunning and Cleverness

By Philip Larkin

Cunning and Cleverness

The speaker in "Toads" seems to think his one shot at getting rid of the metaphorical toads that torment his life comes in the form of wit. He figures maybe, just maybe, he can use his smarts, his cleverness, to "drive the brute off." He has lots of evidence to support wit's power against the amphibian foes, but in the end even wit proves useless for our poor speaker. Oh, well—good try?

Questions About Cunning and Cleverness

  1. Why does the speaker think wit is the way to get out from under that squatting toad (work)? 
  2. Despite all the evidence the speaker provides of people who "live on their wits," why doesn't it work for him? Why can't he use his wits to get free of those toads?
  3. If wit isn't the answer, what is? Is there something the speaker could use besides his wit to free himself from those toads?

Chew on This

Nice try, guy, but the speaker's argument that "lots of folk live on their wits" is flawed. All of the examples he gives of people living on their wits actually involve real work of one kind or another. It is just the speaker's perception of these other lives, and a "grass is always greener" mentality, that makes it seem to him like they've got it made.

The speaker can't get free of "the toad work" because he is a coward. Wit has less to do with it than bravery, gang.

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