But I finally gave in early this summer, mainly at Nick's prompting, and bought his Collected Poems. And I'm happy to admit it: I was wrong. After reading poems like "Home is So Sad", "Dockery and Son", "Love Songs in Age" and "MCMXIV", I felt slightly annoyed with myself for having remained willfully ignorant of them for so long.
Now that this blog can, at least in theory, reach a worldwide audience, I thought I'd pose a question that has stumped me and the other Larkin fans of my acquaintance. It's about the third stanza of the brilliant "Toads", a poem that I can perhaps identify with too well:
Lots of folk live on their wits:
Losels, loblolly-men, louts --
They don't end as paupers ...
It's the term "loblolly-men" that interests me. At last, my hours spent poring over the Aubrey-Maturin series have paid off, because I do know exactly what a loblolly-man (or, more often, loblolly-boy) was. He was the assistant to a ship's surgeon, performing menial tasks such as dishing out the patients' gruel (known as "loblolly"). But what I don't understand is why Larkin includes him in the list of folk who "live on their wits" and have refused to "let the toad work/ squat on [their lives]". The loblolly-boy may have been low-ranking, but he undeniably had a steady job, and in the old days of the Navy he may very well have been pressed into service.
Does the phrase have another meaning I'm not aware of? Was Larkin somehow using it metaphorically? Or did he just like the way it sounded?