Poetic Analysis of ‘The Death of a Toad’ by R. Wilbur

The Death of a Toad

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 shad

Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,

Low, and a final glade.

The rare original heartsblood goes,

Spends int he 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.

In reality, humans are simply highly advanced animals in comparison to the rest of the ecosystem; and yet we put much more emphasis on the deaths of ‘higher-classed’ members of society like royalty and nobility. The Death of the Toad symbolizes the Toad as the lesser people, and conveys the idea that even though the Toad may be inferior in the eyes of society, that its death had a significant impact on its surroundings. Richard Wilbur, the poet, was able to reveal this purpose through structure, syntax, diction, and imagery.

The poem was separated into three stanzas that each had its own idea and sentiment that needed to be expressed to further create a foundation for Wilbur’s purpose for the poem. In the first stanza, Wilbur elaborated on how as the toad was dying that nature was giving it a ceremonial passing after “sanctuar[ing] him” (line 3) with “ashen heartshaped leaves” (line 5) which refers to the art of cremation. The second stanza conveyed that the toad would last forever in its presence on the garden even without its literal existence and would “return to stone” (line 10); thus meaning that the toad had a perpetually-lasting effect on the garden itself and its inhabitants. The third stanza emphasized more on the negative aspects of death through expressing the loss of vitality and vividness in the garden, where the “day dwindles, drowning” (line 15) and the “haggard daylight” (line 18) comes.  

In addition, the syntax throughout the poem focuses on the actions rather than the subjects of the sentences themselves. Utilizing this form of syntax, Wilbur was able to personify not only the toad but also its environment. The beginning of the lines for each stanza is rarely a subject and because of this, Wilbur is able to focus on the process of the toad’s death and its importance instead of just the literal death. By stating that the toad is moving “twoard misted and ebullient seas” (line 13) and that the heartsblood “flow[ed] in the gutters” (line 9) and utilizing movement in general, Wilbur creates a feeling of the importance of the toad’s death through focusing on the journey to death.

Furthermore, through the use of diction, Wilbur was able to create much more emphasis on the concept being expressed in each stanza with words that personified the toad and its surroundings like “the power mower..chewed and clipped…” (line 1-2) and that as the toad traveled “to the garden verge, [it] sanctuaried him” (line 3). This personification of the nonliving beings around the toad creates a sense of humanity, which Wilbur is trying to convey: that the toad is a representation of the ‘lesser’ human: normal and ordinary. But by focusing on the process of this lesser being’s death, Wilbur is stating that every life has significance in the world and an everlasting-influence on every living organism.

Lastly, the imagery illuminated the journey of the death of the toad and in a way, glorified the journey of any and every living being as it travels to death. Wilbur was attempting to state that although when one is living they may be superior to the lesser beings of society that in death, everyone is equal. When one dies, no matter the reason of death or who the person was, they move “toward[s] some deep monotone” (line 12), “toward[s] misted and ebullient seas” (line 13), and “toward[s] lost Amphibia’s emperies” (line 14).

Therefore Richard Wilbur, in The Death of the Toad, conveys the ideal that the death of an ‘insignificant’ being, has a continually-lasting impact on both the creatures living in the environment and the environment itself; and Wilbur was able to express this purpose by utilizing structure, syntax, diction, and imagery.

What do you think about the significance of an ordinary individual’s life in the vast diversity of society? Do you think conforming or staying unique to oneself is more important?

What do you think?

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