“Sparkling armada of promises”

One of my joys in reading poetry is the sudden surprise of a few words strung together that just leap off the page and stir my imagination. I can take this single line and tuck it away in my mind and over days recall it and allow it to come to life. Philip Larkin delivers one such marvelous line “Sparkling armada of promises draw near” in his poem Next, Please. In fairness Larkin can often be a depressing poet and one who sees nothing beyond death itself. However, this particular poem does stress the importance of living in the moment, making the best of what is, rather than always hoping for something different or wishing for “your ship to come in” laden with all new treasures. Reference is made of a ship’s figurehead, often a Greek goddess as an omen of good fortune. Larkin is certainly a complex individual and there is so much in this one short poem but alas too little room to unpack every word. I offer it to you to take and ponder. Perhaps a very different line will grab your attention and imagination. As 2022 gets started we have already pondered what is next, wishing for so much, but it is in the present moment we must live even though our beliefs speak of a future promise. Enjoy!


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.

Lord God,
remind me often of your promises.
Help me to hear afresh your word
“I am come that you might have life”
“This is the day that the Lord has made”
“I am the good shepherd”
Might these promises steady my soul
and grant courage for the living of these days.
Keep my feet firmly on the ground
and my eyes open to all that is around me.
Help me not worry about my life and help me recall
that the birds of the air neither sow nor reap
nor gather into barns.
Your gift O lord is the present,
may I not miss it
by thinking only
about tomorrow. Amen.

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