Poem #1: Not Waving But Drowning by Stevie Smith

In my post yesterday, I discussed my plans for National Poetry Month.  Iris of Iris On Books commented that she had not read any poetry since she left high school. Well naturally, I thought that is a long time to go without reading a single poem :).  But her comment got me thinking about the poems I encountered in my high school.  About, how if we are lucky to have had teachers that are passionate about all forms of literature and how if the selection of fictional material is done correctly, then the texts we read back then will most likely persist in our memories for a long time. One such material for me is the poem Not Waving But Drowning by Stevie Smith:

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.

As a teenager back then and as an adult now, what draws me to the poem is the theme of  being misunderstood.  Of having your signals so completely misread, either deliberately or intentionally, by those around you.  There is also that delicious contradiction in content and tone between the seriousness of the man’s situation and the flippancy of the narration.  Stevie Smith’s poems are often dark; death is frequently a theme.  She is also know for the combination of “caprice and doom” in her writing. Smith (20 September 1902 – 7 March 1971) was British. You can find out more about her and other poets at Poets.org, operated by the  Academy of American Poets



  1. one my favourite poets and poems ,stevie smith was a true one off lived in same house most of her life and worked at same place in london most of her life .


  2. Wow, you are right, what a dark poem! I was always more in to the hopeful poems myself, and am actually just getting together a post featuring one now 🙂 You’ve inspired me!


    • I like all manner of poems, if they are well-composed. But there is something quite special when an excellent poet handles a dark theme.


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