Sunday, November 30, 2003

Consider the Toad

Philip Larkin, in his poem "Toads," asks

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 ?

He concludes that something toadlike squats inside him, too, next to his "wit" -- a definate need for security -- and he suggests that the two qualities live in symbiosis. The toad would not seem so burdensome if there were no wit. The wit would not be so acerbic if there were no toad.

In a later poem, "Toads Revisited," the speaker is walking through the park one afternoon, not working, taking the air with such blighters as

wax-fleshed out-patients
still vague from accidents

and, becoming fearful of strings of empty, aimless days, concludes

Give me your arm, old toad;
help me down Cemetary Road.

One certainly can't accuse Mr Larkin of being overly perky. I laughed aloud today as I discovered "Toads Revisited," recognizing myself in the idle "wax-fleshed out-patient.../still vague from accident..."

I've been out of work and in the vice grip of the Albert DeSalvo/Gregor Samsa collar for two months now. There's a little Larkin in me, for sure. There's some truth in the wit/work symbiosis.

Tomorrow I have another CAT scan, a c-spine xray in flexion and extension -- will my head fall off and roll across the floor ? -- and a trip to the neurosurgeon for his verdict.

Here are few lines from Po Chu-i to counterbalance Larkin's (and my) dysphoric angst:


Joyful people resent fleeting days.
Sad ones can't bear the slow years.

It's those with no joy and no sorrow --
they trust whatever this life brings.

"After Lunch," trans David Hinton

graphics © 1999-2003

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