Next, Please Themes
by Philip Larkin

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Next, Please Themes

The overarching theme of this quiet poem is the futility of hope. The speaker opens by describing how we are always looking to a better future. We endure the present because it is only a prelude to the "till then" of a better future. In the second stanza, the speaker likens our focus on future hope to waiting for a "sparkling armada of promises" to come to shore. An armada is a fleet of ships, and the speaker envisions hope as such a fleet, out in the distance. He notes it seems to come very slowly. Hope—these "promises"—waste our time, the speaker asserts.

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In stanza three, he goes on to liken these promises to "wretched stalks." We can envision something wilting in our hands. Continuing the extended metaphor of hope or expectation (promise) as a fleet of ships, the narrator describes how the ships sail; our awaited ship of hope never "anchors." Crushing our hope, the narrator says that, although we expect a ship to stop and "heave . . . all good" into our lives, "we are wrong." We expect to be rewarded for "devoutly" waiting, but such waiting is futile.

The words "devoutly" and "good" in stanza five suggest we make a religion of waiting for a better future, but this is a false idol. Implicitly, another theme emerges: if hoping is futile, it behooves us to seize the moment we are in and not let our lives float away, yearning for what we will never have.

Another theme is the inevitability of death. In the final stanza, the speaker contrasts the inevitability of death with the futility of hope. This is imagined as a "black ship" which tows "a huge and birdless silence." While the ships of the promise that the future will be better, this is the "only one" that seeks us out.

The poem also asserts the universality of hope's disappointment. The speaker offers no exceptions to the disappointment of our expectations. There is not the rare person whose ship of hope and promise comes to port. We will all be disappointed—and finally dead without having really lived—if we stand and wait for a better tomorrow and don't seize life as it is.

The poem is written is simple, quiet language, using traditional form and imagery to urge us to live in the present moment.

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...

(The entire section is 742 words.)