Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391

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.

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Latest answer posted August 8, 2016, 7:26 pm (UTC)

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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

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 351

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 thing it is.

The main impetus of the poem is Larkin’s fear of death. This fear pervades his poetry from the beginning of his career to its end and is most fully revealed in the 1977 poem “Aubade” (Larkin’s ironic morning song), which shows his obsession with “the total emptiness for ever,/ The sure extinction that we travel to/ And shall be lost in always.” That which only finds direct expression in the last stanza of “Next, Please” is dealt with in detail throughout “Aubade.” Larkin’s sinister title for “Next, Please” came, according to his sister, from the poet’s childhood dread of reaching the head of a line, where the words “Next, please” meant that this shy boy with a stammer would be forced to speak. Further, the ship of death is common in Larkin’s poetry. For example, it appears in the early poem “Ultimatum” (1940), in “The North Ship” (1944), and in “How Distant” (1965).

“Next, Please” illustrates Larkin’s finding his poetic voice, breaking from the influence of the poetry of the 1930’s and 1940’s, and making effective use of such traditional poetic devices as regular meter, stanza form, rhyme, conceit, and irony to produce a distinctive, powerful twentieth century poem. In addition to its importance as an illustration of the poet’s concerns and methodology, it is a well-crafted work dealing with a universal theme that has become central to much of modern and postmodern literature.

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