I attended El Camino College and California State University at Dominguez Hills, earning a BA in English, with a minor in 20th Century Thought and Expression, and an MA in English. Over a decade of adjunct work bookends 25 years in what Han-shan called the “red dust” of business (CPCU, 1992). I was a Hawthorne Fellow at the Attic Institute from April to August, 2012.
“The Coming of the Toads” is the title of a short poem by E. L. Mayo (1904-1979):
“The very rich are not like you and me,”
Sad Fitzgerald said, who could not guess
The coming of the vast and gleaming toads
With precious heads which, at a button’s press,
The flick of a switch, hop only to convey
To you and me and even the very rich
The perfect jewel of equality.
(E. L. Mayo. Collected Poems. New Letters, University of Missouri – Kansas City. Volume 47, Nos. 2 & 3, Winter-Spring, 1980-81.)
The young toads were ugly televisions, but those eerily glowing tubes contained a lovely irony. The toads invaded indiscriminately. The bluish-green light emitted from the eyes of the toads emerged from every class of home, all experiencing the same medium for their evening massage. Mayo’s poem is a figurative evaluation of the effects of media on culture.
In Fitzgerald’s short story “The Rich Boy” (1926), the narrator says, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” But Mayo doesn’t seem to be quoting from Fitzgerald’s story. He seems to be referencing the famous, rumored exchange by the two rich-obsessed, repartee aficionados Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Hemingway wrote, in his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936),
“He remembered poor Julian and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how some one had said to Julian, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Julian. He thought they were a special glamourous race and when he found they weren’t it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.”
Did TV have a democratizing effect, or are its effects numbing? In Act 2, Scene 1, of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” Duke Senior, just sent to the woods without TV, mentions the toad’s jewel:
“Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile, hath not old custom made this life more sweet than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods more free from peril than the envious court? Here feel we but the penalty of Adam, the seasons’ difference, as the icy fang and churlish chiding of the winter’s wind, which, when it bites and blows upon my body, even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say ‘This is no flattery: these are counselors that feelingly persuade me what I am.’ Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; and this our life exempt from public haunt finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in every thing. I would not change it.”
As you like it – it’s all good, Duke.
Poor Fitzgerald didn’t embrace television, but today he would cradle a metamorph tadpole in his lap. What would it convey? The toad’s jewel is more than a metaphor; the churlish shows of television are today the Duke’s counselors. We enter the space of the light box, and the toad’s jewel poisons us to the paradox of staying put, to electronic exile, but does it contain its own antidote (“rather ask the poet“)? The short Mayo poem captures the concerns The Coming of the Toads blog amplifies: the effects of media on culture; reading and writing; the technologically engaged sensorium encaged in light-show effects; the anecdotal essay; the poem as pun, metaphor as doubt; what to read, and how; and what to write, and how.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The Coming of the Toads blog is Copyright 2007-2013, Joe Linker. To contact, comment on any post, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read outside the blog:
- Two Poems: “Ray, 1956″ and “Watermarks from a Night Spring,” reposted at Berfrois, 24 July 2013. Web.
- Excerpts from novel, “Penina’s Letters,” at The Boulevard: a publication of the Hawthorne Fellows at the Attic Institute: Issue # 5 (Special Issue: Liberation), September 2012; Issue # 4, July 2012; Issue # 3, June 2012. Web.
- Reposts at Berfrois. Web.
- “The Value of Time and Pressure,” reposted in The Experience Magazine, Winter 2011. Print and Web.
- “Sex and the Vote,” The Oregonian, 4 November 2010. Print and Web.
- “An object lesson in health and happiness,” The Oregonian, 28 August 2009. Print and Web.
- “Epiphany” appeared in Rocinante, Spring 2009, Vol. 8. Print.
- “A Grammar of Love,” The Christian Science Monitor, 28 May 2009. Print and Web.
Below: A page from Silent Quicksand: “Wailing Rail,” JAZZSKIN,” and “Amuse and Abuse,” appeared in Silent Quicksand, Fall 1973, #3 (a poetry and art magazine of El Camino College).