Monday 31 August 2020


Speaking of Larkin (as we usually are), I was delighted to come across the word 'loblolly' in print the other day – the first time I've seen it anywhere but in Larkin's 'Toads' with its 'Lecturers, lispers, losels, loblolly-men, louts...' –

Why should I let the toad work
  Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
  And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
  With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
  That's out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
  Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts –
  They don't end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
  With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines –
  they seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
  Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets – and yet
  No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
  To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
  That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
  Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
  And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
  My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
  All at one sitting.

I don't say, one bodies the other
  One's spiritual truth;
But I do say it's hard to lose either,

  When you have both.

I came across 'loblolly' again in something my South African cousin wrote about the early history of Durban. He is telling the story of Henry Francis Fynn, who befriended the Zulu king Shaka Zulu and was given the strip of land that became the city of Durban.
Fynn is about to attempt to cure the wife of an uncle of Shaka's:
'Fynn's prior experience of medicine was as a loblolly boy – a surgeon's attendant – at Christ's Hospital, "when I obtained the smallest particle of knowledge of medicine" [as he writes in his diary].'
He was a resourceful fellow, though, and had read the Hippocratic oath. He effected a cure, and thereby got himself quite a reputation as a healer. 'Lots of folks live on their wits...'


  1. I had never heard the expression, except in "loblolly pine", a very common pine in the southeastern United States. Wikipedia says that in the southern US, "loblolly" can mean mudhole or mire, and loblolly pines thrive in swampy ground.

    It never occurred to me to wonder what Larkin meant by "loblolly-men."

  2. Apart from the Larkin's Toads that we studied at school, Ive heard it a few times as a whimsical insult, and I recall it being featured in either the Aubrey/Maturin novels or Hornblower that I read as a teenager

  3. Thanks George – 'loblolly pine' does ring a faint bell – and yes Worm I'm sure the word must be in one or both of those, just the kind of thing Forrester and O'Brian liked. I wonder how on earth it came to mean what it did...

    1. Mire, mudhole -something to do with doing the dirty work, of whatever nature?

    2. Yes, it would have been a filthy occupation.

    3. As I recall, Wikipedia suggests that "loblolly" was applied to mud or mires because of texture: in England, loblolly was porridge.