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Transcript of Ambulances
Philip Larkin (1922-1985) is a poet whose very name conjures up a specific persona: the gloomy, death-obsessed and darkly humorous observer of human foibles and failings. The truth, both about the man and his work, is more complex, but the existence of the popular image points to Larkin's broader cultural influence, beyond the world of poetry.
Then children strewn on steps or road,
Or women coming from the shops
Past smells of different dinners, see
A wild white face that overtops
Red stretcher-blankets momently
As it is carried in and stowed
For borne away in deadened air
May go the sudden shut of loss
Round something nearly at an end,
And what cohered in it across
The years, the unique random blend
Of families and fashions, there
At last begin to loosen. Far
From the exchange of love to lie
Unreachable inside a room
The traffic parts to let go by
Brings closer what is left to come,
And dulls to distance all we are
Closed like confessionals, they thread
Loud noons of cities, giving back
None of the glances they absorb.
Light glossy grey, arms on a plaque,
They come to rest any kerb:
All streets in time are visited.
typically associated with help and rescue but here ominous and threatening.
Simile - lonely and isolated
enjambement - movement of ambulance
Greek mythology The Fates. Atropos cuts threads of life
ominous and impersonal
always attracts attention, morbid curiosity
closed and inscrutable/not taking part in life
grey area between life and death
colour of ill/dying
plaque on ambulance
reminder of body in morgue
metaphor: could happen to anyone at any time. Reminded of our own mortality.
Inevitability, certainty. Ominous
Line is end stopped, finality.
Everydy occurances affected by thret of death. Vibrancy is contrast. Life changes for affected person but life keeps going
Moment frozen in time. No one is spared from horror. Unprepared for ambulance, just as we are unprepared for death.
alliteration. Terror, shock. Emphasises unknown person could be anyone - just a face
white and red symbolise blood and bandages/sheets. Injury fear
dehumanised, not n individual, stored as an inanimate object
And sense the solving emptiness
That lies just under all we do,
And for a second get it whole,
So permanent and blank and true.
The fastened doors recede, poor soul,
They whisper at their own distress;
death as nothing, nowhere else to go
solution for emptiness felt in life
death makes life meaningless
death is always there/pointless life. Uncertainty
temporary, but complete understanding of life and death - colloquial
death is permanent and inescpable
short sentence - finality
sympathy - but really for themselves as they have been reminded about their own mortality
sibilance - whisper, solemn, death, ominous and threatening
metaphor - air is filled with death
someone will die soon. Also, noise has become quiet for ambulance
alliteration. Final, shock, ambulance doors
impersonal, life coming to an end
life connected with the dying body, abruptly ended. Impersonal
unique person forgotten about, existence fades. Life and everything in it is only temporary. Death is only certainty.
enjambment - line dissolves life and connection to it fades
enjambment emphasises the distance from life and loved ones
isolated from life and others
ambulance can move quickly
traffic of human life moves aside to proceed with journey towards death
life is in the past
nothing has lasted 'all we are' is gone in death
uncertainty of life
awareness of mortality
isolation and loneliness
Larkin as an atheist who became more and more obsessed with death. Death meant inevitable nothing, unknown power.
Form and Meter
Regular rhyme scheme: ABCBCA
Regular meter: mostly iambic tetrameter (8 syllables, 4 stressed)
effect - steady and consistent
Mood and atmosphere:
ominous and threatening
contrast in vivid life and sudden death
Stanza 1 - Understanding Questions
1. The poem begins with a simile: what is the effect of this use of religious imagery in the poem?
2. What is the effect of its juxtaposition with 'loud noons' in line two?
3. What is the tone of the final two lines of the stanza?
4. What is the effect of 'they come to rest'?
Stanza 2 - Understanding Questions
1. What impression is created by the first three lines?
2. What image do the words 'children strewn' conjure up? Why?
3. What attitude towards the dead does Larkin's use of vocabulary in this stanza give and why?
Stanza 3 - Understanding Questions
1. What do you think is meant by the first four lines of the stanza?
2. Why do the words 'poor soul' seem out of place when compared to the previous stanza's vocabulary?
3. What image does 'The fastened doors recede' conjure for you?
4. What is the 'distress' in the final line?
Stanza 4 - Understanding Questions
1. Comment on the use of the word m'shut' in line two. Why do you think Larkin has used this word?
2. Explain the use of 'cohered' in this stanza.
3. Why has Larkin used the image of 'unique random blend'?
4. What is the implication behind the final three lines of this stanza?
Stanza 5 - Understanding Questions
1. What image does the word 'unreachable' suggest to you?
2. What is the meaning of the final two lines?
Analyse the individual quotes fully.
Ensure you discuss the
in each quotation.
Remember to explain exactly what it shows
Work in your groups to explain the following themes:
Awareness of mortality
Isolation and loneliness
Now choose one theme and explain clearly how Larking reveals the theme in the poem