Ships that Pass in the Night Examples

Ships that Pass in the Night

The phrase, "like two ships passing in the night," has become common in our everyday language. It refers to people who see each other "in passing," for a moment only and then they are going in their separate directions again.

Examples of Ships that Pass in the Night:

It is often used to refer to two types of relationships. There is the momentary, chance meeting of strangers who enter each other's lives for a brief time and then go on their way, never to encounter each other again. The phrase is often used for more permanent relationships in which the two people don't have the time (or make the time) to see each other. It is often used to lament the lack of time for deeper connection and time. For example, a married couple who work different shifts might meet like "ships passing in the night." Old friends who no longer make the time to see each other may pass "like ships in the night" if they happen to run into each other somewhere.


While the phrase has become common, it was originally an allusion to a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. These are the lines from the poem:


Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.


Longfellow is using the imagery of the ships that pass on a dark ocean as a metaphor of how we "pass" each other in the "ocean of life." We may have time for "a look and a voice" and then we are alone and in silence again. This can be the momentary meeting of two strangers, or it can refer to those with a deeper relationship who are so busy in their own spheres of life that they do not have time for deeper connection.

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