The two poems I have chosen have similarities and contrasts. Ambulances is about an ambulance being a symbol of death, and as living beings, it ‘brings closer what is left to come’ for us. Larkin suffered from necrophobia and this is thus reflected in poems such as Ambulances where he passionately talks about his underlying fears always being there, lying ‘just under all we do.’ First Sight however is all to do with life and the first things lambs see and experience when first born into this world and is therefore all to do with birth as opposed to Ambulances death. As a similarity though, Larkin was very fond of animals and after he died, he left a large sum of money to the RSPCA. Therefore his passion about animals is reflected in this poem, as they are innocent, suggested from the use of the word ‘white’ but born into a hostile world, which they have to cope with.
The poetic voice in both the poems are third person and although the views may be of a narrator figure who is not Larkin, because of his passion to both subject themes, the views expressed in the poems are safely his. Ambulance comes from the word Ambulare, which is Latin for ‘to walk/move.’ Not only is this movement shown in the poem with the visiting of all streets and the traffic parting, but it also connects to First Sight where the first line is about movement, ‘Lambs that learn to walk in snow.’
The poems differ in their language but have a similar structure. Ambulances has a symmetrical structure, with five stanzas each lasting six lines in length and First Sight has also a symmetrical structure but has two stanzas with seven lines. As for the language, Ambulances is fairly descriptive with figurative imagery created through its use of; similes ‘closed like confessionals’; personification ‘loud noons of cities giving back none of the glances they absorb’; and alliteration ‘glossy grey’ and ‘wild white.’ First Sight however creates a more literal image in our minds of the scene that Larkin wishes to convey, ‘newly stumbling to and fro.’
The poem does contain some non-literal imagery through the use of alliteration and assonance, ‘wretched width’ and ‘utterly unlike’. Also in the language of the poems, they contrast in that Ambulances uses some positive words, such as ‘solving’ and ‘borne’ to create an overall negative effect, whereas First Sight uses some negative words, such as ‘wretched’ and ‘glare’ to create an overall positive effect.
The themes in the poems sometimes contrast and are sometimes similar. In Ambulances, the world describes is familiar to every reader; death happens and will happen to everyone, it is a world we can relate to. First Sight, however is a world unfamiliar to us, as not only do most people not remember being born but also when born, most people are not subjected to the hostile conditions of the outside world because in the poem, the lambs have no shelter. Ambulances also states that life is unique and everyone’s is different which blends together to make us who we are, ‘the unique random blend of families and fashion,’ whereas First Sight states that life is the same for the lambs, an ongoing circle for all generations, ‘Earth’s immeasurable surprise.’
Also, the idea of a circle is shown from using the same word, ‘snow’ at the end of both the first and the last line of the poem. A result, moreover, from all of this is a similarity. Although the reader may not be able to relate to the experiences of First Sight, what happens, happens to all lambs, shown through the use of plural and ‘they’, just as in Ambulances, ‘All streets in time are visited’ again shows it happens to everyone.
Both poems have rhetoric endings, with Larkin cogently revealing his response to the experience. In Ambulances, he declares that we cannot escape death and that the paradox is that as the ambulance moves away, it can bring death closer to us. Death is the end of an era. The same is in First Sight. Larkin expresses how, because the lambs are innocent in that they have no prescience; they live off their instincts and are not able to ‘grasp’ the concept of change.