The poem “Ambulances” is an expression of Larkin’s concept of death. Discuss.
Death is common theme in the poetry of Philip Larkin. Tone, mode and attitude of the poet always remain pessimistic. The experience of World War II force the poet to chose a pessimistic topic; no other topic is more distrustful than the death. Like other poems of Philip Larkin, the poem “Ambulances” also discusses the idea of death; the poet has tried to prove that it is a universal truth which should be acknowledged by every person. Subject matter of the poem is that when the ambulances are seen on the road, they indicate sickness, illness and death. Ambulance is direct symbol of death; it indicates that the world is full of pain and worries but no pain is greater than death. It is not only painful to the person, who has died but also for his family members. Philip Larkin, in middle of the poem, spreads light on this issue while describing miserable condition of the person, who is lying in the ambulance; he says that the person has died but he may have spent mixed life of developed family relationships and fashions. It does not matter how good life a person is spending, ultimate destination for him is death. Life is a lie and death is a universal truth and its acknowledgement is necessary for everyone. The struggles of the life and worries are not eternal; they will soon be finished and death is the power which can overpower it. Permanent cure for pains and sufferings is death, which is fatal. Philip Larkin is trying to show that death does not differentiate between the good and bad personality; its duty is to end life.
In very first lines of the poem, the poet creates a gloomy atmosphere; the same atmosphere, which becomes when a person is about to expire. The ambulance is taking someone to the hospital. Everyone stops and sees the ambulance as well as the person lying in it. May be, the person, inside the ambulance, is ill or any accident could have happened but the first thought, which touches the minds of spectators, after seeing the ambulance, is about death. It does not only effect the consciousness of the spectators but also reveals that their destination is also the same as of the ill-person. No one can forget the worries of life until death reaches him.
It is also notable that Philip Larkin is indirectly pointing out that it is not the ambulance, which is dreadful for the people but the concept of death is fearful for the spectators. When an ambulance is seen on the road, people’s attentions immediately turns towards death. It is the notion of death depresses the feelings. Death itself is nothing but a relief from the worries of life but its concept is fearful. Philip Larkin says that when people imagine themselves in place of the person, lying in the ambulance, it increases their fear.
Main theme of the poem is obviously “death” but the thing, which makes the poem remarkable, is that Philip Larkin tries to show that nothing is permanent in this world. It is sure that everyone will meet death one day. Family and fashion is not eternal and with death they will come to end. It is a fact, which cannot be denied; there may be myths that man is immortal but the reality can’t be changed; it is true that man is mortal and he has to face the death one day. There is nothing on the earth, which can defeat death.
We know that Philip Larkin uses death and destruction as his major themes in his every poem. Realism is also the key factor of Larkin’s poetry. “Ambulances” is also based on reality; a reality, which cannot be underestimated. Stephen Regan, a critic, says that the poem is more important in context of the theme of restlessness rather than the theme of death. We see a chaos in the minds of spectators after seeing the ambulance. The situation, which has been created by the poet, directly hits the consciousness of the readers. Every word of the poem is symbolic and reveals an additional figurative meaning of mental disorder after witnessing the ambulance. Not only the imagery of the poems is depressing but the mode and attitude of the poet is also sad. Thus, the situation of people, due to conceptions of death, is the prominent idea of the poem as a gloomy picture of the people has been shown in the poem.
Ambulance, in this way, is not only the symbol of death. It symbolizes the condition of the people after remembering its notion. Ambulance also symbolizes for the loss, which people suffers due to expiration of their near and dear ones. Death has been seen as a negative force against all the efforts of humans. Philip Larkin has imagined the idea of death from every common mind and has proved that situation becomes the same after remembering it; everyone has the same psyche and thinking against death and destruction.
As we all know that Philip Larkin’s poetry is directly proportional to the World Wars. Although, this poem is not in a straight line based on the events of World Wars yet we know that the people have suffered too much in both the wars; parents have lost their sons, sisters have lost their brothers and wives have lost their children; the pain is still in their minds and when they see the ambulance, it does not only freshen their wounds but also leaves marks on their minds with regard to casualties of world wars. Thus, ambulance becomes symbol of death and destruction for the people.
To conclude, the poem “Ambulances” is definitely the expression of the concept of death. It is a dark reality, which will be witnesses by every single person living in the world. It is also right that the poem is less about the death itself but more about its conception; when it is imagined, it saddens the mode. The poem also gives us an additional message that nothing is everlasting and every pain, either internal or external, can be healed by death.