Last Updated September 5, 2023.
In the poem "Next, Please," Philip Larkin’s speaker is addressing people in general, saying that we as humans are often expecting something amazing to come along and change our lives.
Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching.
Larkin's narrator claims that in our imaginations, this expectancy takes the form of something as grand as an armada, offering, with its sparkling exterior and "brasswork prinked," a hope that a great change is about to come. All we have to do is continue what we have been doing and simply wait for this ship to come into port to change us for the better. The ship comes nearer and nearer, until we can make out "each rope distinct." Then at the last minute, it turns and passes us.
As Larkin's speaker states, the disappointment we feel is palpable. We had expected the ship to pick us and take us to the place we feel "we are owed," or unload riches, but we suddenly find ourselves in arguably a worse position than before, bereft of all hope and enthusiasm for the future.
In the last paragraph, Larkin's speaker introduces the ship that is "seeking us." It is a type of ghost ship that arrives in the port in a "birdless silence." Though Larkin's narrator doesn't state it directly, the reader understands that this ship has arrived to take us away. Or, at the very least, bring us bad tidings.
However, this is not necessarily a wholly negative poem. Larkin’s speaker appears to be criticizing people's tendency to wait for something to happen and their assumption that the world owes them happiness. In Larkin's speaker's view, nobody is owed anything. One must strive to make what one can of the world.