In this poem, Larkin 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.
In the first stanza, the speaker contends that we're 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. We begin to harbor expectations about the "sparkling armada of promises" heading our way.
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. However, it's like a ship that's traveling too slowly for our liking.
In the third and fourth stanzas, the speaker maintains that the ship will arrive in due time. However, when it does, we will ultimately be disappointed. It seems that reality never quite lives up to all of our fondest hopes and ambitions.
The speaker also likens the future to an approaching ship. As the ship glides towards the harbor, we see more clearly its form. The "big approach" eventually reveals the ship's brasswork, ropes, and even the figurehead. The latter is an ornamental wooden figure mounted onto the bow of a ship. However, the ship itself never anchors. No sooner does it approach, then it passes by completely.
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...
(The entire section is 438 words.)