So here we are. We've made it to the 1950s, and we're talking about Richard Wilbur's pretty famous poem much anthologized satire, The Death of a Toad, which dates from 1950. So tell us about the language. Who wants to talk about the language? Where is this language from? Is it the language of the street? Is it the language of children? Where does this come from? Kristen? >> Well, it's certainly not the language of the street. It's very high diction for a pretty lowly subject. >> So you're going right there. Okay, so the difference between the style and And subject matter is- >> Huge. >> Huge. >> What's the subject matter? >> The subject matter is the death of a toad. It's a toad dying. >> Why? How does the toad die? >> It got struck by a lawnmower. >> Is it tragic? >> Not really. >> Yeah. >> Not typically. I don't think one would typically think of the death of a toad as tragic. >> From the toad's point of view, absolutely. >> Yes. >> From the speaker's point of view? >> From the point of view of amphibia's emperies it's probably pretty sad. >> Okay, where are we, Max? What's the setting? >> The suburbs. >> How do we know? The idea of a power mower I think is such a suburban idea, such a post war. >> By the way, 1950 power mower. I should have done my research but, I think that's a pretty cool thing. >> Yeah, yeah, I'm sure. >> A hand mower would have been a little more common. I think this is probably a gasoline powered mower, so the Wilbur figure, the speaker, the lawn mowing person has a power mower. More likely you would cut off the leg of a toad with a power mower and not notice. >> And never notice. >> Yeah okay, so we're in the suburbs. Is there any other evidence of suburbanism, Molly? You notice I said not just suburbia, but suburbanism. >> Suburbanism. >> Yeah. >> [COUGH] I'm just thinking about the lawn and the leaves and the garden. >> Yeah, tell us about the lawn and the leaves and the garden. >> Well, there's a garden verge, which sort of makes me think it's a pretty big garden. >> It's a planned garden, cineraria. Hm? Heart shaped leaves, this is quite a nice little verge between what is now the mown lawn, the carefully clipped lawn, and a nice garden. Mm-hm, anything else? Do we see any other reference to the to the lawn, Ally. >> At the end of the poem. >> Mm-hm, what's the phrase? >> The castrate lawn. >> The castrate lawn. Okay so, castrate brings us back to Kristen's first observation, which is this language is not just elevated language. What is it? It's beyond elevated. >> It's high poetic >> The Claude McKay poem is elevated diction, it's Shakespearian language with all kinds of subject verb or verb object inversions and stuff like that, but this goes beyond that. This is more than that. >> Manufactured in a sense >> Can you say a little more? >> Reading it it shows that it was so intentionally created and put together. >> Yeah, so it doesn't have a kind of of naturalist about it. There's some actual words we can use to describe this. Kristin, some more thought on this? >> Well I think it's pretty satirical. There's a jokey quality to it. >> There's a jokey quality. What generates, as a matter of language this is not an easy question. It's not easy to talk about language in this way, so you're being brave. A toad the power mower caught, not language we would use if we were shouting neighbor to neighbor about hey, your lawn mower clipped the frog, caught a frog. You would probably put the subject verb and the object in the right order. What's the effect of messing around with that? >> It shows the loss of agency of the toad. The toad was caught by the power mower. >> Okay, good. >> It's also passive. >> How is it Latinate? >> With the verb at the end of the clause. >> So it's Latinated. Also, helps the rhyme. In this case the rhyme is also artificial because the diction of with the hobbling hop has got, so in order to torque the sentence, the grammar to get the rhyme you would think that the rhyme should be coming in a natural order, but the rhyme itself is an artifice. A toad the power mower caught, verb put at the end. Chewed and clipped of a leg. The diction is also high and weird. With a hobbling hop has got, so you've got jokey assonance, and the rhyme is got, caught and got, has got to the garden verge. This is what? What is this? You can use fancy poetic terms, or you can use your own language. Emily, what do we have here? >> It's sort of mixing of high and low registers, right? Has got to the garden verge is sort of sloppy colloquial language. >> Good. Yeah, and just the presence of a toad. We don't usually associate toads with the highest diction. I'm just going to say that this is a mock heroic. This is mock heroic language. This is heroic language of the sort that Claude McKay was using when he borrowed from Shakespeare, but it's mock heroic. You've got the hero here, the tragic hero is a frog. I'm sorry, a toad with all due respect to the differences. So this is a toad. >> It's like Pope's Rape of the Lock. >> It's very Popian. In fact, I think that Johnson and Pope and a little bit of Swift, although Swift is too wild for Wilbur probably. This period of new formalist poetries as it was called in the late 40s and early 50s before and also during the big break of the so called new American poets of which the beats were a part, right? The beatniks, the beat generation, which we're going to talk about in the next chapter. You get a kind of neoformalism that's almost Augustin in it's looking back to the 18th century for satire and wit. So in a time of retrenchment, which is certainly what largely in America certainly in the move to the suburbs and so forth post war settling and retrenchment. In art and modes of representation it's often a time of satire and irony. Okay, so we have that. What's the purpose of this satire do you think? When it's Swift or Pope it's usually to some object. Molly, do you see any purpose? >> I don't know. The toad itself seems too small a subject, so I don't know, maybe he's satirizing suburban issues, suburban problems? >> So let's just see, let's look a little bit at the toad as we go through it and see how the toad fares. So he's been clipped of leg. He's lost his leg and he hobbled where? >> To the garden verge. >> Right, he's gotten out of the way. Seems to know enough to get out of the way of the power mower, and he's at the edge and he sanctuaried him. I love that self reflexive grammar. He sanctuaried him. Sanctuaries? He found a safe safety. That is quite a high word for what a toad is mostly instinctively doing. Getting the hell out of the way of the lawnmower. Under the cineraria leaves in the shade of the ashen and heart shaped leaves in the dim, low, and final glade. The rare original hearts bleed goes. What's happening there, Allie? >> He's bleeding to death. >> He's bleeding. He's bleeding to death. Why Dave, rare original? The rare original hearts bleed goes. >> He's just elevating and romanticizing the toad. >> Is he thinking about this toad? Why think of a toad as original and rare? Emily, do you know much about this kind of animal? >> They're amphibians, right? Not reptiles. >> Yes. >> There's just something sort of primordial and gross about them. >> Something really original about them, yeah. They're us. They're the guys who come out of the water. They crawl out of the water. >> [LAUGH] >> And they're us. The rare, original hearts bleed goes, spins in the earthen hide. What's that? Allie, what's going on there? Translate that into non Wilburian English. >> The blood is seeping into the mud. >> Yeah, into probably the mulch, the suburban mulch. Spins in the Earth. I love spins, in the folds and wizenings, folds in the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. >> Dave, what do you see there? >> I see the life being drained out of this frog, and his eyes getting just getting more and more vacant. His eyes are vacant and they're filling up with blood. It's lovely? >> This is so gross. >> He lies as still as if he would return to stone. Max, what does that make you think? >> It makes me think of actually of maybe a stone frog that you would put- >> He's like a lawn ornament! Nice! [LAUGH] That's so funny. He's returning to stone or he's becoming truly suburban. His next life is going to be as a lawn ornament in the suburbs. >> One legged lawn ornament. [LAUGH] >> As still as if he would return to stone and soundlessly attending dies toward some deep monotone ribbit. Ribbit, ribbit. Toward mist, and now we have the turn in this elegy. There's always a turn in the elegy. What happens in the turn in the elegy typically? >> It's the looking forward, how are you going to survive without the toad. >> Yeah well, usually that's the second part. How we going to we've lost him, we care about him. That's the first, the second is what a great life he had, and the third is we're on to better things, and so is he. Heaven, where? Emily, toward misted and buoyant seas. This is real mock heroic and cooling shores. Can't you see it? And now he makes up a heaven for toads. For suburban clipped toads, lost amphibia's emperies. Can you translate that a little bit into common English? >> Well, he's [COUGH] like the imagery, a lot of sort of old mythic imagery of deaths, of crossing some sea. He's exploiting that to talk about this afterlife voyage into some amphibian paradise. >> Toad heaven. Toad heaven man, this is toad heaven. Day dwindles. The speaker, Wilbur let's say. He's done mowing his lawn. Day dwindles. Drowning in at length is gone in the wide in and antique eyes. There's antique again, which still appear to watch across the castrate lawn. What's funny about that, Max? You're smiling. >> It's just a ridiculous- >> It's such a loaded way of saying mown lawn. >> [LAUGH] >> To watch across the castrate lawn, the haggard daylight steer. So, we've got lots of wit and irony. William Carlos Williams, he's not going to do satire and irony. Why not? Just, come on. You know Bill. Why wouldn't he do this? >> Because he's not into artifice. He's going to talk about the thing because it's the thing, and that's the thing and that's all that there is. >> And what is his relationship with the thing? He's looking at it. >> Williams, what's his relationship with the thing? No ideas but in things he says. Kristin, what's his relationship to the thing? >> He want to use it as it is. >> And what's Whitman's relationship to the thing? >> He was just part of America, and I love America. >> And it's part of him, yes. Yeah. >> This relationship's the thing, the toad- >> Is? >> Is a total construction of this insane artifice. >> Is the speaker close to the toad? Does the speaker have a sense of sharing the toad's fate? The toad is distant. The subject object relationship is distant and ironic. Marvelous, funny, but so different from what we've been. Williams will treat a piece of broken green glass as a sign of us, and certainly not small game. This toad is small game for Wilbur. Wilbur aims his huge talent, his huge satirical talent at nothing with all due respect to the toad. Williams, just to keep with our example he would never turn his enormous talent to small game, and then treat it like small game. In fact, he would make it a thing of his life. So we've sort of set Wilbur up to be not in the modernist tradition, which is certainly with the case, but maybe we should conclude with a broader mind writing a couple comments about where we think we are in this. Certainly this is a neo formalism. Certainly it's a form of classicism in the sense of creating and really Frost is so much better in my opinion, but Frost shares this situation where he wants something to divide him from the object. He wants a clear distinction between the subject, which in this case is this satirizing subject, and the object. So we're really a long way from modernism in a way. So anyway, thoughts on this? And you can admit to just being entirely entertained by the satire, Dave? >> I feel like what Adda said about artifice that he's celebrating artifice. He's celebrating the fact that you can create art from anything to celebrate the act of creation. >> Maybe he got that a little bit from modernism. Modernism is all about how nature is artifice, and artifice nature, and modernism is also about making anything the subject matter for poetry. The difference is that I think that Williams takes for example, or Stein takes the subject matter, a carafe or any one of her tender objects, tender buttons and takes it with high seriousness, but without elevating the prose way above it. Sorry, the verse. Dave, go ahead finish what you were going to say. >> That was it. >> Allen? >> I kind of actually agree. I think it's kind of I wouldn't expect that I would see this as art for art's sake because there's such associations with modernism when you get to that. >> Right. >> It's kind of just this poem seems to me as if Richard Wilbur just was in the mood to write a poem, and so he decided he saw this frog maybe and just decided to use it in order to kind of display his abilities. >> Good. Molly, we were wrestling with the concept of suburbanism here. >> Mm-hm. >> You want to add any further thoughts? You can say anything nasty about the suburbs that you'd like. >> Well, I think it matches the suburb itself is such an artificial thing it's constructed for the sake of being constructed and made to look very pretty, and that's kind of the way that I feel about this poem is what Allie just said. He wanted to write a poem, so we wrote a very fancy poem about a very simple subject. >> And actually in a way not so simple, because what better a setting for a mock heroic poem with all of his artifice than the suburban garden with all of this, which is way castrate lawn is so funny. Anna and Max, I invite you to say anything you like. >> For me, this- >> It leaves you flat. >> Yeah, it doesn't really do anything for me. I think it's funny. It's like good for you. You can make your own form. You can make your own line. You can use this crazy insane language. >> It's so funny, I'm sorry. It's so funny that part of the humor of it is that he's making a formality. This is an invented neoformalist form. It's almost as if once freed of form by the modernist revolution he runs to one that he makes up. It's as if he can't do without it in a way. >> I don't know. I'm just not a big fan of artifice in this way. >> I think that's why it's kind of of tricky. >> Max, you get the last word. Say something smart. >> I think it's kind of tricky and almost baffling poem, because I'm not sure. I don't think any of us are too sure why he's doing this, why he's undertaking this. >> What's at stake? >> Yeah, what is at stake? I'm not sure, but I- >> If there's something more about our connection to the amphibian I need to be persuaded of it. If there's something more, then I'm okay, but if it's really just about this toad that has nothing to do with us. >> But it's not because it's a satire. It's so over the top that his point is less about the toad than it is of course about the form, but it's also I'm not sure why he's making that point it it's also going to be one that's so ironized when it's so satirical? We're not supposed to be persuaded either by the toad or by the form, I don't think. >> It's been said of Joan Didion, obviously a very different kind of writer that nothing survives her scrutiny, and she goes after small game, also large game. She goes after small game and there's nothing left of it, and I think this is a hilarious example of how there's nothing left of the small game. >> Well, he brings the wife out. >> [LAUGH] >> Definitely exhausted the toad. >> So, why don't we just pack up and drive out to suburbia and see if we can, I don't know. Mow some lawns or- >> Clip some toads. >> Clip some toads.