The toad work

Today was my last day in a job that has furnished our table but not my soul. I haven't been doing it long enough for too much sighing and exclaiming this afternoon, so rather than any grand eulogy, I place upon my empty desk, without bitterness, this pair of poems by Philip Larkin.


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?

Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison -
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.

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

Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines -
They seem to like it.

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

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:

For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
My way to getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.

I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both.

Toads, revisited.

Walking around in the park
Should feel better than work:
The lake, the sunshine,
The grass to lie on,

Blurred playground noises
Beyond black-stockinged nurses -
Not a bad place to be.
Yet it doesn't suit me.

Being one of the men
You meet of an afternoon:
Palsied old step-takers,
Hare-eyed clerks with the jitters,

Waxed-fleshed out-patients
Still vague from accidents,
And characters in long coats
Deep in the litter-baskets -

All dodging the toad work
By being stupid or weak.
Think of being them!
Hearing the hours chime,

Watching the bread delivered,
The sun by clouds covered,
The children going home;
Think of being them,

Turning over their failures
By some bed of lobelias,
Nowhere to go but indoors,
Nor friends but empty chairs -

No, give me my in-tray,
My loaf-haired secretary,
My shall-I-keep-the-call-in-Sir:
What else can I answer,

When the lights come on at four
At the end of another year?
Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.

Meditations on work

I have to apologise for not having posted for a couple of weeks. I've been reflecting on the many benefits of voluntary unemployment (note: these do not include so-called unemployment benefits, as it seems the G-men don't take kindly to the 'voluntary' part). More broadly I've been thinking about work and whether this temporary hiatus could be used to realise some of my creative ambitions. I've always suspected that real creativity might be a convenient way out of work; though of course I realise that realising it involves a lot of work. Nevertheless a lot of writers see themselves at odds with the world and values of conventional employment. Not least Philip Larkin (again), whose poem 'Toads' articulates my latent suspicions:

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?

Why can't I? Lots of other people seem to. Indeed corporate gurus argue that creativity is the capital of the twenty-first century (like it wasn't in every other one.)

Then there's Thomas Hardy, Larkin's antecedent, whose philosophical approach I used to justify  frequent bouts of inertia when studying:

"It is no new thing for a man to fathom profundities by indulging humours: the active, the rapid, the people of such splendid momentum that before they can see where they are they have got elsewhere,  have been surprised to behold what results attend the lives of those whose usual plan for discharging their active labours has been that of postponing them indefinitely."

Although the older I get the more I have to admit that indefinite postponement might yield profundities, but rarely results.

Then there's Hilaire Belloc, who said he "never put pen to paper without wishing that I had inherited an enormous fortune, in which case you may be very certain that I should never have put pen to paper."

So is writing a way of working, or of not working? If I didn't have to work (a euphemistic way of describing my current status), would I want to write? Or is the dream of writing only one of the humours I indulge while reluctantly pursuing my more active labours?

I'll keep you posted.