1 December 2021 Susannah

Philip Larkin & Next, Please

Ship Sailing on Sea

As another New Year’s Day approaches, with its time for resolutions, perhaps we can all learn something from this poem by Philip Larkin? Maybe we should be concentrating on the present, instead of waiting for future joys and promises?

Next, Please by Philip Larkin

Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
Till then we say,

Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
How slow they are! And how much time they waste,
Refusing to make haste!

Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
Each big approach, leaning with brasswork prinked,
Each rope distinct,

Flagged, and the figurehead with golden tits
Arching our way, it never anchors; it’s
No sooner present than it turns to past.
Right to the last

We think each one will heave to and unload
All good into our lives, all we are owed
For waiting so devoutly and so long.
But we are wrong:

Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.

Larkin argues that people get far too fixated on the future, but that we should be concentrating on the here and now.

The poet uses the extended metaphor of ships in the distance – the ‘armada’ seems to represent a glorified future. But our desires are like a ship “without anchor”. At the end of the poem, Larkin twists the ship metaphor, turning it into the ship of death. He wants his readers to see the folly of expectancy, to see that they are standing on a bluff (i.e. shaky, uncertain ground that could crumble at any moment).

It is a delicately crafted poem, written in simple language as Larkin explores the idea of wishes and disappointment, it contains a rather black humour, and with such words as “we” and “our”, the poet connects himself with the reader.

The title ‘Next, please’, makes one think of a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room. It’s the Grim Reaper calling out to us all – our turn will come! So we’d better make the most of today. It’s a rather bleak poem that I’ve chosen to end the year, but it is also a timely reminder that we must make the most of the time we have.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985) is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the late 20th century. He was not a cheerful poet – in fact, he once remarked that deprivation for him was what daffodils were for Wordsworth.

Does nature inspire your love of literature? Have you ever wanted to climb mountains? Tell me what you think by leaving a comment.

You can listen to the poem being read here:

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Featured image credit- Ship Sailing on Sea, from https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-pirate-ship-sailing-on-sea-during-golden-hour-37730/
Body image credit- Philip Larkin, from https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/64716.Philip_Larkin

Comments (11)

  1. Suzanne Williams

    Yes I agree with the first comment that Larkin’s poem would certainly echo the encouragement of ‘mindfulness’ in today’s world..
    Thank you Sussanah for all your wonderful ideas during 2021.Happy Christmas.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad you enjoy my newsletters, Suzanne.
      May 2022 be filled with good books for us both!

  2. Honey

    When I hear POEM read aloud to me, I want it to be in Susannah Fullerton’s voice.

  3. Helen

    HERE’S A LONG REPLY – THE WORDS OF JACQUES BREL, WITH A DIFFERENT TAKE ON “NEXT” Made famous too on a recording by Scott Walker – whatever next indeed…

    Naked as sin
    An army towel covering my belly
    Some of us blush
    Somehow knees turning to jelly

    Next, next

    I was still just a kid
    There were a hundred like me
    I followed a naked body
    A naked body followed me

    Next, next

    I was still just a kid
    When my innocence was lost
    In a mobile army whorehouse
    Gift of the army, free of cost

    Next, next

    Me, I really would have liked
    A little bit of tenderness
    Maybe a word, a smile
    An hour of happiness

    But next, next

    Oh, it wasn’t so tragic
    The high heavens didn’t fall
    But how much of that time
    I hated being there at all

    Next, next, next

    Now I always will recall
    The brothel truck, the flying flags
    The queer lieutenant who slapped
    Our asses as if we were fags

    Next, next

    I swear on the wet head
    Of my first case of gonorrhea
    It is his ugly voice
    That I forever hear

    Next, next, next

    That voice that stinks of whiskey
    Of corpses and of mud
    It is the voice of nations
    It is the thick voice of blood

    Next, next, next

    And since then each woman
    I have taken to bed
    Seems to laugh in my arms
    To whisper through my head

    Next, next

    All the naked and the dead
    Should hold each other’s hands
    As they watch me scream at night
    In a dream no one understands

    Next, next

    And when I am not screaming
    In a voice grown dry and hollow
    I stand on endless naked lines
    Of the following and the followed

    Next, next, next, next

    One day I’ll cut my legs off
    Or burn myself alive
    Anything, I’ll do anything
    To get out of line to survive

    Not ever to be next
    Not ever to be next

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh thank you sooo much for including that wonderful poem. I have never come across it before and it is very memorable.
      Isn’t it wonderful that we can keep finding marvellous new poems to enjoy, and everyone responds to them so differently.
      Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  4. Tony

    Thanks, Susannah. A beautiful choice of poem. Of understated artistry. Thanks for another generous year of “Notes” and all the best for 2022.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for all your great feedback and support during the year, Tony. I hope to see you at JASA soon. Merry Christmas and may 2022 be filled with good books.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Nice to hear from you, Kym. It is certainly a pessimistic poem, but also a really good one.
      Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  5. Maria

    Nothing is new under the sun. Had he lived beyond 1985, PhilIp Larkin could have been the poster boy of the modern meditation movement with its rallying cry of living in the moment, though his lack of cheerfulness may have presented a few problems. I liked the poem for all its bleakness. Bleakness is as much a part of life as its opposite, though we often pretend that’s not the case. After the horrors of 2020 and 2021, I think many people have gotten a lot better at living in the moment. I have high hopes for 2022 but then I felt that way about 2021 😉

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Our high hopes for 2022 suddenly seem rather fragile with this new variant. Let’s hope for better things.
      Yes, we need pessimism and bleakness as a contrast in our world. I think it is a wonderful poem.
      Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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