poetry, drowning, steviesmith, mentalhealth, literature, isolation, suffering, silence, disconnect, metaphor, emotions

Not Waving but Drowning

Stevie Smith (1902-1971) was an English poet and essayist known for her unique and morbid prose style. Stevie was cautious not to be exposed to modern poetry lest it influence her work, preferring older poets such as Browning and Tennyson. Not Waving but Drowning is Smith’s most famous poem, published in 1957. The poem describes a drowning man who, from the perspective of onlookers, appears to be waving. On a metaphorical level, Smith’s poem touches on a feeling of isolation from others and a lack of understanding. This dimension of the poem prompts us to think about the disconnect between the life and mind we display to others, and the afflictions which we may suffer with in silence.

Not Waving but Drowning

“Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.”

Image Credits:
Feature Image: Stormseeker, On Unsplash. Creative Commons.