Critical Analysis of “Ambulances” by Philip Larkin

Critical Analysis of “Ambulances” by Philip Larkin

“Ambulances” is about the concept of death, which is a universally acknowledged truth. Philip Larkin talks about the illness. He also shows the dread of death while illustrating realistic imagery of ambulance. The poem is not about any specific person nor is it about the illness of an individual but demonstrates the notion of death. When people think about ambulances, terrible images come in their minds. Usually, people imagine death after seeing the ambulances. Death is a loss for the near and dear ones of the dead. It is also peaceful as it is the end of sorrows and sufferings. Philip Larkin does not consider death nonviolent; rather he talks about its negative impacts. Ambulances as the name suggests is a depressing poem. No one becomes happy on the arrival of ambulance instead it saddens their moods. Thus, death is a loss and ambulance is the reflection of death. In fact, death is the main theme of this poem. Philip Larkin is famous for writing about problems of modern world. In older days, there was no concept of sudden death. Mostly, people died at their homes. Moreover, they faced death only when they came of age in case they were not soldiers. In modern days, people die in hospitals; they are transferred to hospitals through ambulances. Death was certain; it is certain but there is a large difference between death of modern days and the ancient days. Nowadays, people die suddenly. In short, in this poem, death has very beautiful been conceptualized by the poet in this poem.

The poem starts with clear imagery of ambulance. It is taking a patient to the hospital. It predisposes attention of everyone. Though the ambulance does not look at anyone yet people gaze it. Starting lines of the poem illustrates the vivid imagery of ambulance and the people who see it. People become afraid by seeing it. When they see a critically sick person in the ambulances, they imagine themselves in it, due to which their condition becomes dreadful. Every person, especially the children and women stop doing their works and divert their attentions towards ambulance. It is not the ambulance which increases their fear but the concept of illness. A person is being transferred to the hospital and people are not thinking positively; they do not think that his condition would become better instead they think about worst possible conditions. They step into the shoes of patient and imagine his pain. Philip Larkin, in first two stanzas of the poem, illustrates realistic imagery of the ambulance. He also describes the condition of people when they see ambulance.  

Psychological condition of the people has been presented by the poet in next stanza. Concept of death shows the people that nothing in this world is permanent. It does not matter, whether a person is rich or poor, death is certain for him. Death is the worst pain in this world. No pain of the world can be compared to death. Furthermore, it cannot be defeated. It is a sad fate for everyone. It is painful simultaneously dreadful. People show their sympathies while saying the word “Poor soul” for the person, who is being transferred to the hospital but this sympathy actually is the result of selfishness as they are imagining themselves in the ambulance.

Philip Larkin says that the ill person might live a good life; it might be full of happiness; he might have many relationships, including family relationships; he might live a fashionable life but with the arrival of death, his life has no meaning at all. The life, whether it was good or bad, has come to an end. Values of the death, his norms and his habits have no value now. But the loss to his near and dear ones values the most. The poet himself has imagined death like the persons who have seen the ambulance. Indeed, it is fearful. Philip Larkin has beautifully presented the system of life and death. In life, people have no time for each other. Even they ignore their family relationships but after death, there is no value for worldly desires. Life does not stop with death of a person. It goes on. It continues. Philip Larkin actually wants to say that graveyards are full of people who thought that world will have not value after their death. It is also admitted that importance of egos, desires and values ends with death.

Last stanza of the poem is depressing. People give way to ambulances. They pass through the streets; they alarm the death. The poet says that the patient is going to die. Every single second is nearing him to death. It is certain for him. No one can stop it. Instead of worldly desires, patient’s mind is full of feelings and emotions. He fears from it but nothing can be done to save him from death. Death is powerful. It takes every person with him whom it likes. It decreases distance between ill person and afterlife; the same distance, which is still maintained by the healthy ones.

In a nutshell, the poem “Ambulances” illustrates fear. It is among those finest poems which insist on fear. It also shows horror on the face of children and woman when they see death. Death itself is scary but its concept is frightful. In modern days, we witness death every day. Larkin has not presented any utopian world. He has created everyday setting through which he has presented the notion of death. It is more effective in this way. Examples from everyday life are more impressive as compared to instances from stories. Philip Larkin is known as the poet of realism. Undoubtedly, in this poem, imagery is realistic. Horror of death can be imagined. Feelings of death on the faces of spectators can be felt. Janice Rossen has rightly adjudged the theme of this poem. He writes:-

“Larkin wrote a group of poems which insist harshly on fear in the face of death,, and which are therefore bleak and sinister. In some of these poems, Larkin’s view of death is chilling and effective because of the very ordinariness and everyday settings he writes about. For instance,, in the poem Ambulances, he emphasizes the omnipresence of death in the line: ‘All streets in time are visited.’ His poem ‘Aubade’ proves that nothing can defeat or mitigate the horror and permanence of death. ”  

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