This poem is about the inevitability of death. He argues that people spend too long fixated on the future, forgetting to live in the present. In ‘Next, Please,’ he looks at people who have wasted their present, waiting for a future that never comes. In an incredibly depressing poem, Larkin implores the reader to focus on the present, before it’s too late.
‘Next, Please’ founds itself upon the extended metaphor of ships in the distance representing the future. This far off ‘armada’ is glorified, with Larkin’s imagery painting the sought future as something remarkable and beautiful. He depicts people as waiting on the shores of the present, looking out over an ocean, longing for their futures. Larkin continues his extended metaphor until the end of the poem, where he flips the connotations of the device. Instead of representing promise, the ship in Stanza 5 is used to represent death. This sudden change from the glorified future to the harsh actuality of approaching death is incredibly depressing.
The entire poem can be read here.
The Title – ‘Next, Please‘
The title, ‘Next, Please’, effectively summarises the sense of urgency the people feel within the poem. Larkin categorizes the characters of the poem, indeed ‘we’, as impatiently waiting for the future to arrive. The use of the imperative ‘next’ suggests a tone of impatience, with the title demanding the arrival of the future, similar to how the people within the poem are also eagerly waiting. In this poem, ‘Next’ symbolizes the future, with the demand for its arrival suggesting a dangerous disregard of the present. At the core, this poem is Larkin pointing out the stupidity of asking for the future instead of enjoying the present. While the future does indeed draw closer, so does the inevitability of death.
Analysis of Next, Please
Always too eager for the future, we
Till then we say,
A tone of impatience, first suggested within the title, is instantly communicated through the word ‘eager’ within the first line. This tone of impatience is continued throughout ‘Next, Please’, characterizing the poem.
Within the first line, Larkin uses the pronoun ‘we’ to group the reader within those about which he is talking. Larkin believes that all people, the reader included, have this obsession with what the future will bring. We can see that he frowns on this ‘habit of expectancy’ through the preceding adjective, ‘bad’. This poem acts as a warning, he wants the reader to focus on the present instead of the future.
The ever-nearing future is Larkin’s key focus in ‘Next, Please’. The ‘always approaching’ future draws nearer ‘every day’. Yet, ‘we’ are impatient of this slow daily progress. The use of enjambment, ‘every day/ Till then’, suggests closeness between the present and future. Yet, the line break actually serves to drive apart from the two concepts. ‘Till’, on a new line, is emphasized. The far off impossibility of the future is described through the ambiguous word. It is within this line, ‘Till then we say’, that a glimpse of Larkin’s depressing view is revealed. Larkin suggests that the future is not close at all, time waiting for its arrival is time wasted.
Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear
Refusing to make haste!
Stanza two is where the concept of Larkin’s extended metaphor begins to take shape. The ‘sparkling armada’ of boats is an idolization of the future, with the ships representing possible futures. Larkin still talks through the perspective of ‘we’, and the reader is drawn into the fascination of the beautiful future. Indeed, the imagery of ‘sparkling’ and the grandeur or ‘armada’ elevate the beauty of these future ‘promises’, romanticizing the future. The impatience of ‘we’ is again shown in this paragraph, with the two exclamations (L7+8) reflecting the eagerness.
Larkin creates a certain divide between ‘We’ and ‘Them’ within this Stanza. ‘We’, those who passively wait for the future, and the future actively drawing nearer. This seeming reversal, with the future being the thing moving towards us allows ‘we’ to take on a passive role. We believe that it is not our duty to chase down the future, expecting and waiting for it to arrive. This is the core of Larkin’s argument, and where he finds frustration. ‘How slow they are!’, ‘how much time they waste’ – is a picture of humanity denying that it is actually us wasting our own time. Instead of taking responsibility, we blame something else, taking a back-seat in our own lives.
Stanzas Three and Four
Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
No sooner present than it turns to past.
Right to the last
These two stanzas hold the majority of the romanticization of the future. Yet, it is also here that Larkin describes the harsh reality and punctures this idolization. Larkin paints a beautiful picture of the nearing ships, representing the glorious future. ‘Golden tits’ suggests wealth but is also sexualization of the future – romanticized right up until the end of its approach.
Yet the ship never docks, the future never arrives as wanted. Although the future ‘arch[es]’ towards ‘we’, it ‘never anchors’ – the disappointment palpable. Larkin uses negative semantics, ‘wretched’, ‘disappointment’, ’never’ to describe the bitter realization of ‘we’ that what they have been waiting for has eluded them. We have realized, all too late, that the present has turned to the past. Larkin suggests that time slips through your fingers if you are constantly fixated on the future. The romanticization of the unknown future is toxic, as it draws focus away from the present.
We think each one will heave to and unload
But we are wrong:
This paragraph is introspective, again relying on the ‘we’ pronoun. He talks about how we expect the future to arrive and bring us what we desire. But this is not the case, ‘we are wrong’. The grammatical isolation of this line, ‘But we are wrong:’ is a moment of clarity within ‘Next, Please’. Whereas ‘we’ are those who romanticized the future, this is a flash of reality. Preceded by an end stop and coming at the end of the stanza, this line is given a solemn emphasis. The short, monosyllabic sentence is cripplingly depressing after the beautiful imagery of the last few paragraphs.
The double use of so: ‘so devoutly’, ‘so long’ summarises the problem in focusing on the future. The ‘we’ in the poem spends ‘so’ much time idolizing the future they forgot to think about the present. A whole lifetime wasted by waiting and waiting for something that never came.
Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
No waters breed or break.
After the somber tone of Stanza 5, this stanza reflects the harsh reality of life – the inevitability of death. Bleak, right? At this point in the poem, the illusion of the future has been shattered. Instead, the extended metaphor of ships is subverted into one describing death. While ‘we’ have been waiting for the ‘sparkling armada’ of the future, the only thing that has been getting closer is ‘one ship’ – the ‘black-sailed’ figure of death.
This stanza is bitterly depressing. The sheer still force of death is characterized by a ‘huge and bridless silence’. Larkin employs a daunting, and terribly quiet, image of death drawing nearer and nearer. The final line compounds this horrible stillness, with the lack of movement, ‘no waters breed or break’, attributing to the complete nothingness of death. Death arrives where the future did not.
In conclusion, the romanticization of the future is a dangerous game. Larkin urges the reader to break out of the ‘we’, to grip the present, and not let go. Depressing or enlightening? I’m not so sure.