AMBULANCES Philip Larkin
meditation on the closeness of death, its randomness
and its inevitability. These three ideas are captured
for Larkin in the action of ambulances in the city.
Today young people might see ambulances as a sign
of hope, a positive intervention sustaining life rather
than heralding death. When the poem was written in
the fifties, to be carried away in an ambulance was
a sign of worse to come.
ambulances symbolise death. They are closed and inscrutable
"giving back none of the glances they absorb"; like
a corpse. They are private, secretive, silent like
confessionals. They cause agitation in people who
glance nervously at them hoping that their time has
not come. The randomness of death is suggested by
come to rest at any kerb"
inevitability is expressed in,
"all streets in time are visited"
Larkin's superb eye for significant detail as he points
out the contrast between the zest and energy of living
"children strewn on roads"
"women..past smells of different dinners."
the horror of its opposite
"A wild white face.."
the patient is carried away from the flow of normality
to be "stowed" like some dead thing in the ambulance.
The red of the blankets, the white of the face are
colours of distress.
reflective stanza after the vivid details of the first
two. The poet is moved to think that death is our
common fate that has the power to render life meaningless.
All our busy concerns, all our cooking, our play is
just a way of filling time until death takes us away
to empty nothingness;
"And sense the solving emptiness
"That lies just under all we do".
thought which we put out of our minds comes to us
without any softening theology
"And for a second (we) get it whole
So permanent and blank and true"
the ambulance pulls away, Larkin suggests that peoples'
expression of sympathy at the patient's plight is
also an expression of our common vulnerability to
sickness and death.
4 and 5
Larkin thinks of the dying patient and the sadness
in her heart as she experiences
"the sudden shut of loss
Round something nearly at an end."
sympathises with her fear. He reflects on the loss
that death will bring; how it will destroy this unique
"the unique random blend of families and fashions."
"loosens" her from her family and identity - all that
really matters to us as people.
tremendous isolation of being in an ambulance as
she faces death
"Far from the exchange of love to lie
Unreachable inside a room "(i.e. the ambulance)
out Larkin's deep sympathy for the victim. This sympathy
is for a real person.
as with most poems by Larkin, he is able to take a
particular experience, a particular circumstance and
find a general truth in it.
the suffering of the victim become the model for all
life lived, all death experienced. The model is bleak,
however. Living according to this model is just the
rush towards death,
"brings closer what is left to come"
the effect of this realisation is to make life seem
a lonely and bleak experience robbed of its joyful
immediacy its pleasant physicality,
"And dulls to distance all we are."
are left isolated by the experience, distanced from
LARKIN - THE EXPLOSION
in many of Larkin's poems, the event that occasioned
the poem provokes the poet to move from an almost
casual reflection on the details of the event to a
final a deeper empathy with our common human destiny;
suffering and death (the mining catastrophe) but also
love and beauty ( the vision of the wives).
how Larkin tries to set a distance between himself
and the miners. They are shadows pointing towards
the pithead -
it is to be their catastrophe. He will not become
personally involved in their fate but maintain that
air of detachment to be found in many of his poems.
He wishes to allow the catastrophe and characters
to stand independently worthy to have their suffering
noted without sentimentality.
stanza 2 we may observe Larkin's gift for making
oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke,"
are simple, ordinary young men of their time swearing,
smoking, proud of their strength and stature
off the freshened silence."
sounds are almost onomatopoeic to reflect the rough
stanza 3 the poet leads us a little closer
to the men. One is shown as innocent, playful as he
chases after rabbits. But on his return from the chase
another side of his nature is seen. He is gentle;
does not trample on the nest of lark's eggs and returns
them to where he found them. What does this action
tell us about him? Is Larkin asking us to note his
sensitivity? his gentleness? his unspoken respect
for the mystery of procreation? Might this have been
a gesture he made to his fiancé; a proposal, almost.
men are part of a close community simply, elegantly
brothers, nicknames, laughter"
all this simple, homely normality is under grave threat
suggested in the lines,
the tall gates standing open"
are the gates of fate, of the underworld, inescapable.
in stanza 5 their fate is met. The poet delivers
the news without melodrama; we knew the explosion
was coming from the title. The world of nature is
unmoved by the catastrophe,
stopped chewing for a second"
sun was dimmed as the dust from the explosion was
blasted high into the sky.
that Larkin leaves the aftermath, the rescue, the
Stanzas 6 - end.
the second part of the poem the focus is changed.
Now it is the wives who are central. It is said that
the poem is based on a real event and that the wives
of the dead miners had visions of their men at the
moment of the explosion.
uses this knowledge to transform what would be a sad
and meaningless accident into an occasion of transformation
the religious imaginations of the wives the men are
seen "for a second" as transformed into gold,
metal of purity and endurance. In this new changed
appearance they will live in the memories of their
wives. The poem ends with the image of the unbroken
eggs. The eggs are also transformed; now they may
represent the hope of resurrection or the preciousness
of memory or the strength of the bonds of love.In
the face of death we have a choice; either to accept
it as the slide into nothingness or we may find in
it the door to renewal.
this poem Larkin offers us the renewal vision that
flashed into the shocked serious hearts of the miners'
WIND - PHILIP LARKIN
poem is full of joy, expectation, and excitment of
the young woman on the brink of her new life. The
wind is a symbol of renewal; the past is being transformed;
a time of enriched experience is beginning.
stands apart from the persona of the young woman.
She is the speaker; it is her story.
separate experiences are recounted by her. They form
a narrative that comprises her wedding night and the
first morning of her married life. Ironically her
new husband is absent throughout the poem. He is looking
after the nuts and bolts of the real farm. She is
looking to herself and the joyful powers she is beginning
to take responsibility for; the power to be a lover,
a wife, a mother, a co-owner of the farm.
two stanzas trace the sequence of her growth from
a simple girl
"and I was sad
any man or beast should lack
The happiness I had."
a speaker of profound questions..
it be borne, this bodying forth by wind
Of joy my actiond turn on..?"
strong narrative sequence unites both stanzas; first
night, first day. Think of The book of Genesis; of
Eve.Consider what must have been on her mind during
the first morning in Eden - her joy at knowing herself
to be the treasure house of all future generations.
Larkin appears to suggest that the girl is partaking
of the same self-realisation as Eve. Note the biblical
kneelnig as cattle by all generous waters?"
in the poem is energy. In stanza one the speaker remembers
the high wind first and then the noise of the door
banging in the wind. Her new husband is not part of
her recollection - he is absent bolting the stable
door. In the first stanza she recalls the first night
of her marriage. Often in the lore of marriage the
first night is spoken of with special significance;
as consummation and initiation - but not in this poem.
she tells us the simple truth; she felt a bit stupid
when he had left,
me stupid in the candlelight"
recalls seeing her face in the "twisted candlestick"
but yet she admits to
may be that she is telling us that it is not until
the next morning, "Now in the day", when she experiences
the wind as she feeds the chickens that she fully
realises its meaning as a symbol for her own new energy
that there is no honeymoon. She must look to her chores
as must her husband;
"He has gone to look to the floods,
Carry a chipped pail to the chicken
might be seen as tedium but the change she undergoes
is an inward, spiritual one.
leads her to ask those profound questions (they are
really statements) which end the poem.
it be borne, this bodying forth by wind
joy my actions turn on, like a thread
thrill of her excitement is so intense that only the
wind is big enough to embody it, "bodying forth".
The meaning of her life is clear to her now. Even
her simple actions like feeding chickens feel as if
they are part of a greater unified whole, "like a
thread carrying beads."
I be let to sleep
this perpetual morning shares my bed?"
sexual joy, the romance, her ownership of the farm,
the very newness of her situation makes her so giddy,
so thrilled that she feels she will never be able
to calm down again so that she may sleep. The windy
morning symbolises all that is new and energetic in
even death dry up
new delighted lakes, conclude
kneel ing as cattle by all-generous waters?"
feels immortal. The brimming lakes symbolise new life
to be enjoyed almost forever. Her gratitude for this
new life is expressed in the image of the grateful
cattle kneeling as they drink their fill - a picture
of Eden on the first day?