Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

The Death of a Toad

tags: , ,

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful implanted in the human soul.”
— Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

I received so many poetry suggestions from you that I decided to continue to publish poetry on my site once per week for you to enjoy. One of my SB colleagues, John Lynch, posts a poem every Friday (here’s his poetry archives), so — because I don’t want to conflict with John’s poem of the week — I will post a poem every Wednesday at 10 am ET, as long as you continue to send me poetry suggestions.

This week’s poem was suggested by a reader, Lenana, who writes that I had already decided to mention “The Death of a Toad” by Richard Wilbur, which I find deeply heartbreaking, so your posting “The Rabbit” [ .. ] was coincidental. Although Wilbur’s idea of what the ancient earth was like is kind of old-school, the poem is lovely in every line.

The Death of a Toad (1950)

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.

— Richard Wilbur, former Poet Laureate of the United States, Collected Poems 1943-2004 (Harvest Books; 2006).


  1. #1 ice9
    May 14, 2008

    This poem was used as the poetry free-response essay on the Advanced Placement Literature test in the ’90’s, I forget when exactly.


  2. #2 DH
    November 12, 2008

    Ice: ’twas 1997

New comments have been disabled.