Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Larkin’s decision to reprint “Next, Please” in his 1955 collection The Less Deceived illustrates how central the poem is to one of his primary themes: the need to see things as they really are. (The volume’s title is an oblique allusion to Ophelia’s response to Hamlet—“I was the more deceiv’d”—after his telling her that he did not love her.) Larkin is determined not to have deception make the world appear in any way other than what it actually is, and expecting future happiness to make everything right is, possibly, the ultimate deception. In “Next, Please” the reader is encouraged to see life for the limited, diminished thing it is.

The main impetus of the poem is Larkin’s fear of death. This fear pervades his poetry from the beginning of his career to its end and is most fully revealed in the 1977 poem “Aubade” (Larkin’s ironic morning song), which shows his obsession with “the total emptiness for ever,/ The sure extinction that we travel to/ And shall be lost in always.” That which only finds direct expression in the last stanza of “Next, Please” is dealt with in detail throughout “Aubade.” Larkin’s sinister title for “Next, Please” came, according to his sister, from the poet’s childhood dread of reaching the head of a line, where the words “Next, please” meant that this shy boy with a stammer would be forced to speak. Further, the ship of death is common in Larkin’s poetry. For example, it appears in the early poem “Ultimatum” (1940), in “The North Ship” (1944), and in “How Distant” (1965).

“Next, Please” illustrates Larkin’s finding his poetic voice, breaking from the influence of the poetry of the 1930’s and 1940’s, and making effective use of such traditional poetic devices as regular meter, stanza form, rhyme, conceit, and irony to produce a distinctive, powerful twentieth century poem. In addition to its importance as an illustration of the poet’s concerns and methodology, it is a well-crafted work dealing with a universal theme that has become central to much of modern and postmodern literature.