ships that pass in the night

Often said of people who meet for a brief but intense moment and then part, never to see each other again. These people are like two ships that greet each other with flashing lights and then sail off into the night. From a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with ships that pass in the night

ships that pass in the night

Individuals who are rarely in the same place at the same time. For example, Jan works the early shift and Paula the late shift—they're two ships that pass in the night. This metaphoric expression comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem “The Theologian's Tale” (published in Tales of a Wayside Inn, 1873).

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.