A poem which describes an ordinary or everyday scene is ‘Ambulances’ by Philip Larkin. ‘Ambulances’ is about an ambulance going to take someone away and the neighbourhood is watching what is happening. It shows the curiosity that is in every human being and the inevitability of dying. This essay will discuss how the poet uses an ordinary/everyday scene and make it important and to explore a wider universal theme. The essay will also show how Larkin’s use of poetic techniques makes and ordinary or everyday scene turn into something bigger.
At the beginning of stanza 1 Larkin decides to use techniques to create curiosity in the reader about the everyday scene which is explained in more detail later on in the poem: “Closed like confessionals, they thread” Here Larkin uses a simile to show how the A mbulance is perceived from the inside out. A ‘confessional’ is a small room in a church where someone would go to confess their sins and be closer to g od.
This reference to the ambulance being like a confessional gives the idea that the inside the ambulance is a very confined space and if someone is going to hospital, it would be because something had happened to them and describing the ambulance like a confessional links it to god and living rather than dying . Using the word ‘thread’, Larkin creates a sense of carefulness from the ambulance, the way it moves through the city traffic gives the idea that it’s weaving through the city.
In stanza 1 Larkin shows the curiosity behind the public seeing an ambulance and the scale of stares it gets: “giving back none of the glances they absorb” This shows that the people of the neighbourhood are watching where the ambulance is going and are curious to know what the ambulance was needed for. This also shows how something like an ambulance or fire engine which could signify tragedy, brings out the curiosity in everyone because you want to know what happened.
Here, Larkin brings in a background theme of curiosity in the general public. Larkin has also used personification here by giving the idea that the ambulance could look back if it chose to, when really it’s no very realistic , so giving it a human quality. Larkin , brings in two of the main themes at the very end of stanza 1 and at the same time hits a nerve in the readers imagination: “They come to rest at any kerb: all streets in time are visited”
This is emphasising the scale of the ambulance , by using the words ‘any’ and ‘all’ Larkin shows how everyone dies in their life and that you can’ t choose when or where it happens. Thus, bringing in the theme, inevitability of death to the poem and letting the reader see that it is going to happen to them at some point. This also links to the theme of death which Larkin explores in more detail further on in the poem.
Also, using the word ‘any’ shows that it doesn’t matter about class, race or age etc. no one is going to be singled out by death because they are a different race. In stanza 2, Larkin introduces a stronger theme of death through the scene he is describing and by using poetic techniques to describe that scene: “wild white face that overtops red stretcher-blankets momently” Larkin uses imagery here to show the reader how strong the theme of death is in ‘Ambulances’. Imagery is used when Larkin describes what the person looks like, by saying ‘wild white face’ gives the impression that the man or woman is dead, the blood has been drained from them.
It also touches the reader by making them think about the fragile hold on life we have and that humans are not immune to death, bringing back the theme that dying is inevitable. Larkin’s word choice here is surprising, describing the face as ‘wild’ is very bizarre because there is nothing wild about it . The face is lifeless and does not have any wildness about it. There is also a strong contrast between the ‘wild white face’ and ‘red stretcher-blankets’, the contrast between the colour red and the colour white. Both colours which are associated with an ambulance or hospital .
To finalise , Larkin has explored the wider theme of death & the inevitability of death very well using an ordinary or everyday scene such as an ambulance being called out to a house in a small neighbourhood. Larkin has achieved this by using poetic techniques such as similes, imagery and personification to describe the scene in the poem. ‘Ambulances’ by Philip Larkin is a poem which brings out the fear in the reader by letting them come to face-to-face with something which us as people do not like to think about. Therefore this poem is a very eye-opening poem for the reader.