Introduction

“The North Ship” is a poem by Philip Larkin that was originally published in the same-named collection of his poems. The poem depicts the voyage of three ships, two of which have returned and one of which has embarked on a great journey by dodging all hurdles. For us, the third ship is a sign of optimism and inspiration.  The poem was written as a result of the poet’s own experience.

About The Poet

Philip Larkin was born in Coventry, England, on August 9, 1922. He went to Oxford’s St. John’s College. The North Ship, his debut collection of poems, was released in 1945. Larkin worked as a librarian in the provincial city of Hull, where he died on December 2, 1985. He was reclusive and a big enthusiast and acknowledged critic of American jazz.

Theme Of The Poem

Philip Larkin chronicles the journey of three ships as they prepare to sail to various destinations and in various directions through sea. While the two ships, the west ship and the east ship, returned due to the challenges of their journey at sea, the third ship remained at sea. The north ship overcomes all impediments in its path and reaches at its destination safely.

Stanza 1

I saw three ships go sailing by.
 Over the sea. The lifting sea.
And the wind rose in the morning sky,
And one was rigged for a long journey.

The poem begins with the poet’s anecdotal observations of three ships preparing to sail across the sea. As the wind soared in the morning sky, it was a wonderful day to sail by. Each ship was fully prepared to go on a long voyage.

Stanza 2

The first ship turned towards the west,
Over the sea, the running sea,
And by the wind was all possessed
And carried to a rich country.

The poet saw that the first ship set sail for the west sea. The west sea was full of wind and waves, one that would lead to a prosperous land. 

Stanza 3

The second ship turned towards the east
Over the sea, the quaking sea
And the wind hunted it like a beast
To anchor in captivity

Over the water, the second ship made a turn to the east. However, the sea was wobbling, the wind was heating the ship like a hunting beast, and the ship was unable to complete the voyage and reach its intended destination. 

Stanza 4

The third ship drove towards the North,
Over the sea, the darkening sea,
But no breath of wind came forth,
And the decks shone frostily.

The poet observed the third ship sailing over the dark sea in a northerly direction. The decks glistened frostily since there was no breeze. The northern sky grew dark and lofty as the ship progressed. The path was not at all conducive to the ship’s sailing.

Stanza 5

The northern sky rose high and black
Over the proud unfruitful sea,
East and west the ships came back
Happily or unhappily

Over the powerful, fruitless sea, the northern sky rose high and black. The east and west ships returned, whether they wanted it or not, because they were experiencing troubles on their journey.

Stanza 6

But the third went wide and far
Into and unforgiving sea
Under a fire-spilling star,
And it was rigged for a long journey.

The north ship sailed far into the stormy sea, beneath a blazing star, and arrived at its destination, where it prepared for another long trip.