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Analysis of Death of a Toad by Richard Wilbur

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Original Poem

A toad the power mower caught,
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got
To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him
Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade
Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,
Low, and a final glade.

The rare original heartsbleed goes,
Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows
In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies
As still as if he would return to stone,
And soundlessly attending, dies
Toward some deep monotone,

Toward misted and ebullient seas
And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia's emperies.
Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone
In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear
To watch, across the castrate lawn,
The haggard daylight steer.


The modus operandi by which death can attack a being can be either tranquil or excruciatingly painful. Richard Wilbur’s didactic description of the final minutes of a toad is moving and sympathetic. Wilbur’s response to the death of the toad can be seen through the structural divide of the three stanzas in his poem. As the lines pass by, Wilbur explores two themes that are vital to a modern world; nature verses machinery and man verses nature. Richard Wilbur conveys his response to the audience by progressively analyzing the final stages of the toad through organized structure, syntax, elevated diction and the stark imagery. These elements of literature convey to an audience that the toad is a casualty of modern machinery.

In the first stanza, Wilbur comments as a mere observer of what is happening to the toad. But he goes on to explore the first theme by using inverted diction to make the toad the subject of his analysis. He uses alliteration like “chewed and clipped” and imagery of “hobbling hop” to enhance his first theme; nature verses machinery. The frog is nature’s décor for the lawn as long it hops and skips on wild and untrimmed grass. But when machinery is introduced to supposedly make the lawn perfect and pristine, the frog is slaughtered-- symbolizing the end of natural beauty and the reign of virtual beauty. The images employed by the poet play a major role in attracting the attention of a reader, and an example is the “ashen heart shaped leaves.” The toad’s heart is ashen with out blood because the lawn mower has sliced its leg. In line sixteen Wilbur says the lawn has been castrated, portraying a very despairing image indicating the reign of the lawn mower. Wilbur’s imagery and elevated diction conclude with the “dim” forecast of the heartless realization that machinery has waged a war on nature—and it is not alone.

In the second and third stanzas, Richard Wilbur explores the second major conflict; man verses nature. Man is seen as an obstruction to nature because he is one that is driving that lawn mower. The mower will not move by itself, and it has to be directed; therefore in order to make the grass look beautiful in his eyes he “castrates” it and butchers a toad. Wilbur conveys this conflict with his solemn and melancholic diction. The toad’s heart blood is flowing and it just lies on the “earthen hide in the folds and wizening.” From the diction used one has come to the conclusion that man is evil. Wilbur’s diction and imagery gives an idea of how much he is pulled in to death. From his original stance as a mere observer, he explores that conflict that man does not repair his damages; rather he looks “staring eyes.” Frogs and Toads accentuate the natural thrive of a lawn but it is very difficult to capture a live toad and keep it as steady as “stone”; nevertheless man has removed “the original heart blood” and turned it to stone. The stone would be a décor to his “castrated” lawn since he modified nature to suit his liking. Richard Wilbur towards the end eulogizes the toad in way only classical Greek or Roman heroes would be eulogized. Wilbur has figuratively applauded the death of the toad as casualty of the war between man and nature. Wilbur comes to the conclusion that nature is giving up on man to give up his ways.

Machinery is a problem and man is destructive; but together they are deadly enough to completely wipe out nature and her beauty. Wilbur throughout his poem has discussed how machines such as a lawn mower, which is intended to cut grass can, actually castrate it. He also goes on to talk about how man does not do anything to repair the damages he has done. This poem greatly reveals the speaker’s response, because he wants to stop the onslaught of man with his machines. Nature is beautiful as it is and so are the toads that croak in it.

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Sam Tumblin from Eunice, La. on January 18, 2017:

Detailed analysis but I think poem spoke for itself in simplicity.

James E Cressler from Orlando, Florida on August 24, 2014:

Enjoyable and your analysis is quite good! Thanks

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on October 21, 2012:

I admire Richard Wilbur's work and have a collected poems 1943-2004 published by Waywiser. He has a very concise method of creating his poems. First Snow In Alsace is an early good example.

This 'toad' poem is neatly formed, has some unusual words and is not that easy to follow but you have done a good job explaining the whys and wherefores. Thank you.

PADDYBOY60 from Centreville Michigan on January 10, 2012:

Very Good poem. Thanks.

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