The title of the poem addresses the reader directly and introduces a sense of mystery. “You Will Know When You Get There,” the title says without specifying what, exactly, “you” will know or where the “there” is. The poem will go on to explore this sense of “getting there,” as it describes (using the second-person pronoun "you") a person's steep descent toward the ocean. As the poem progresses, it will become clear that the “there” in the title refers to both the sea and to death.
In the first two lines ("Nobody comes [...] goes down"), the poem begins to subtly set up an extended metaphor between the sea and the end of life. “Nobody comes up from the sea as late as this,” the speaker says in the first line. This lets readers know that, in the world of the poem, the sea is a place that people must climb out of after entering it—but nobody ever returns from the sea after entering it this late in the day or even this late in the year. This idea hints at the same sense of finality usually associated with death.
Although the first lines begin to establish the poem's central metaphor, they can also be read literally:
- Readers can imagine a landscape near the sea. This landscape is getting darker, and winter is approaching.
- Although people often make the steep descent to the ocean in daylight and in the summer months, the speaker suggests that this trek now seems dangerous and ominous: “nobody else goes down / the last steep kilometre” to the beach.
The repetition (technically diacope) of the word “nobody” in the first two lines ("Nobody comes up" and "nobody else goes down") emphasizes that this scene is deserted. At the same time, the word “else” in “nobody else” indicates that there is someone making this descent, despite the fact that it's so treacherous.
The speaker has already noted that nobody ever comes back "up" from this trek at this time of day or year, meaning that going down to the sea at this time is like approaching one's own death—a point of no return. The sea therefore represents death, and the journey toward it becomes an extended metaphor for what it's like to near the end of one's own life.
Several elements of sound and pacing contribute to the meaning of these opening lines:
- First, the repetition and variation in “nobody comes up” and “nobody else goes down” emphasizes the juxtaposition between “up” and “down,” with “up” representing life and "down" representing the steady lead up to the end of life.
- The sharp enjambments at the ends of lines 1 through 3 ("Nobody comes [...] wet-metalled where") also create a sense of falling that aligns with the image of someone walking down a steep incline toward the sea.
- Finally, the sibilant /s/ sounds and assonant long /e/ sounds in “sea,” “season,” and “steep” add musicality to the language while also emphasizing some of the poem's most important images and ideas—namely, the image of the sea, the fact that it's winter, and the beach's sharp slope.