"Toward Lost Amphibia's Emperies"
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.
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 Amphibias 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.
Wilbur has managed to paint succinct word pictures of what most would consider an insignificant event, the accidental mangling of a toad chopped by lawnmower blades. Whether or not this has ever happened to any of you, the graphic description of the dying toad following the event, leaves no doubt in the readers mind about "death" and its sudden intrusion into daily events when least expected. These word pictures which triggered my imagination at first reading years ago, are still with me today. This can only mean one of two things, i am either too sensitive and have a hyper imagination or the words composed by the author are very skilfully composed generating maximum effect in the readers mind. I prefer to believe the latter is true in my case.
Reading "Death of a Toad" provoked an immediate sentient response from me and if i had been a figurative painter i would have been tempted to paint a series of pictures from my imagination immediately in an expressionistic fashion with a palette of colours geared to evoking a sense of swampy primeval tragedy. I guess i'm still carrying these strong impressions with me after all these years and they're trying to find release somewhere, somehow in what i do. For me the "wide and antique eyes," staring "across the castrate lawn" in the dwindling summer evening is too wonderfully melancholic.
While visualising the text i can actually smell the damp cut grass and sense the evening mist all the while imagining the mortally wounded toad sheltered under the overhanging "cineraria" plants. The deepening shadows and mottled inky night colours as twilight fades are powerful triggers for me. The mixture of death and shadows and fecund herbage as a backdrop for this amphibian drama pushes a lot of buttons linked to my early life and a lot of sublime memories of events i experienced at that time. These things are personal i know but "Death of a Toad" is a trigger that opens strong emotions for me.
Poetry, i believe, is the highest form of art because it enables the writer to frame in a few words profound images that tie together memory and experience enabling the reader to personalise them in a profound way. Although Wilbur's poem isn't revolutionary from a structural point of view, it is innovative in its use of rhythm, punctuation and diction (word choice) in order to conjure up vivid imagery and invoke strong empathy in the reader's mind. Poetry has been very influential in my painting practice enabling me to develop a discipline of the mind that harnesses the power of the imagination.
I was inspired by "The Death of a Toad" so many years ago but it still resonates strongly within me, continually opening up possibilities to me in the creative life of the mind. Of course, i can say the same of other writers like T.S Eliot, E.E Cummings, Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens to name a few, but the special insight into humanity, the reverence for life and the superb word pictures in "Death of a Toad" give it a special place in my heart.
For a further analysis of the poem click Here.