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Last Updated on November 1, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512

Introduction

In “Next, Please,” published in Philip Larkin’s 1951 collection The Last Deceived, Larkin’s speaker emphasizes our collective penchant for anticipating the future and all it brings. It seems our fondest hopes are centered on what the future entails. However, the actual events often fail to match our greatest expectations.

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Summary

In the first stanza, the speaker contends that we are too eager for the future and we spend too much time agonizing over what it will bring. He calls this habit a bad one. All in all, he maintains that we make too much of events that have yet to occur. Long before we see any sign of them, our imaginations take over. There is always something coming next, something new on the horizon.

In the second stanza, the speaker contends that our anticipatory spirit often leads to pointless complaining. We want the future to arrive, to hurry its approach. Larkin’s speaker compares this anticipation to watching a ship painstakingly close the distance of ocean between itself and an audience of onlookers. However, it's like a ship that's traveling too slowly for our liking. We begin to harbor expectations about the "sparkling armada of promises" heading our way. We make it into something that it is not merely because we think it will be different from our present. 

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Latest answer posted February 27, 2009, 6:04 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

In the third stanza, the speaker maintains that the ship will arrive in due time. These ships continue to leave us in a state of want and disappointment, though. Every distinctive, “big approach” that brings sizeable expectations along with it seems unable to provide what we search for.

The fourth stanza builds upon these approaching vessels. Even if these ships possess a “figurehead wit golden tits”—a presumably desirable, promising image—it won’t meet our standards. It seems that reality never quite lives up to all of our fondest hopes and ambitions. Something we were excited about in the future quickly becomes the present, then it fades to memory in the past. The ship itself never anchors. No sooner does it approach, then it passes by completely. What we once claimed entitlement to, like the promise of the future, ignores us and heads further onward.

In the fifth stanza, the speaker laments the destruction of our hopes. It seems that each ship in the "armada" of fate always disappoints. Instead of "unloading" good things into our lives, each "ship" leaves us embittered. We wait long and "devoutly" for good things, believing that we are deserving of them. However, our hopes often clash with reality. The speaker contends that we have no right to such vain hopes.

In the last stanza, he explains why this is so. The speaker maintains that there is only one ship heading for us, and it is black in color. As it approaches, we can see it towing a huge, "birdless" silence. Ominously, no waters break in the ship's wake. This macabre imagery leads us to think of death, the kind Larkin’s speaker may fear: one where an oppressive pall grips the soul for eternity.

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