Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"Next, Please" is a poem by Philip Larkin that draws on the human propensity to look beyond what is in the present moment in the hopes of obtaining more. It touches on the insatiable desire of humanity and the resulting crisis it can create within ourselves. Larkin’s speaker makes use of an extended metaphor, equating the image of the ship to that which is expected (future opportunities), and juxtaposing it with the sole thing that, in all certainty, draws near (death). The coming ship metaphor is especially effective to represent the future. Though these vessels are assumed to carry wonders that will change our lives for the better, they often pass us by or disappoint us. They may be headed for different harbors—or no harbors at all. Majestic and desirable from a distance, we build them up with unrealistic expectations to be what they are not: ours.

Larkin’s tone is one that admittedly recognizes, if not reproaches, human nature for being "always too eager for the future" and thus being susceptible to the unhealthy practice of constantly expecting. He describes the lure of faraway fortunes as a "sparkling armada of promises," whose flashy appearance takes our attention away from what is real and apparent in life. Such constant eagerness for what's to come causes one's care and patience to erode, creating the cognitive bias of seeing slowness in most everything. This makes us lose focus on the present. Larkin emphasizes this impatience with the use of exclamation:

How slow they are! And how much time they waste,

Refusing to make haste!

He goes on to show how we tend to be very clear and perhaps too sure when it comes to our desires, often carving them in elaborate ways in our minds in something akin to lust:

Each big approach, leaning with brasswork prinked,

Each rope distinct,

Flagged, and the figurehead wit golden tits

Larkin anchors this poem on a greater human flaw—entitlement—when the speaker calls us out for thinking "we are owed / for waiting so devoutly and so long." This calls to mind the idiom, "Good things come to those who wait." He puts a twist on it, giving the poem a sharp turn away from its earlier bright, golden imagery toward an approaching vast, "birdless" darkness. It makes no hesitation to declare that in the grand scheme of things, at the very end of a long wait, we all board the same ship towards our own mortality. Larkin paints the picture of stillness and nothingness with his last line:

In her wake

No waters breed or break.

The rhyme scheme of the poem is aabb, lending it a swaying rhythm, much like being in the water. His stanzas are also visually noteworthy in the way they mimic the shape of a ship, with part of the upper body jutting out before tapering at the bottom. This tapering likewise lends to an emphasis on the theme of expectations, as the last line of each stanza is inextricably linked to the first line of the next, whether it be in structure or in thought. It results in each stanza seamlessly towing the other, coming in as one ship after another, as the reader is taken on a journey through the different stages of waiting—expectation, disappointment, denial, disenchantment—until the last one, which is the quiet acceptance of death.

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