The Poetry of Larkin Questions and Answers
by Philip Larkin

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Explain the last stanza of "Ambulances" by Philip Larkin: "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."

The last stanza of "Ambulances" by Philip Larkin depicts how the ties that bind living people together begin to dissolve in death. It also examines how the presence of death, as symbolized by the ambulance, reminds the living of their eventual end.

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In Philip Larkin’s poem “Ambulances,” the ambulance is the vehicle—literally—that intertwines the living and the dead.

In the last stanza, Larkin finishes the thought from the previous stanza: “the unique random blend / Of families and fashions” that make up an individual “At last begin to loosen.” In life, we are knotted together with other people—our families, friends, and communities. In death, however, the difference is stark. All of these bonds are loosened, and we are ultimately alone, “Far / From the exchange of love to lie / Unreachable inside a room.” Although the ambulance transports the dead through the traffic that “parts to let go by,” within the ambulance itself, the dead person is “unreachable.”

Throughout the poem, Larkin has shifted the focus past the actual corpse and to the living people around it. In the final lines, Larkin once again zooms in on how the dead affect the living. The ambulance “brings closer what is left to come, / And dulls to distance all we are.” For a moment, people in a busy city and in busy traffic are confronted with a reminder of death, through the ambulance. The ambulance “brings closer what is left to come”—that is, the reality that no one is immortal, and all of life must end at some point. This truth “dulls to distance all we are”; although we are knotted in our personal ties in life, the reality of death draws us inward, forcing us to reflect on the fact that we will one day be separated from it all.

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