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,
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.
~by Stevie Smith
How often we hear people say these days, “the Instagram profiles are mostly deceiving”. And that’s true indeed. Of 365 days in a year, he spent only 20 days on holidays. Rest 345 days was “life”. But sixty pictures were uploaded on his profile. And in each of the images, he was having so much fun.
Of every picture, he uploads on the weekend, where he is seen clubbing with friends. It’s just 2 hours of dancing and partying, the rest 166 hours in the week are “life”.
Last year he returned from an adventure trip to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. He was showing pictures and videos of him doing deep-sea diving and sky-diving to a friend. His friend has a severe heart condition and is not allowed to do any adventure sport. “The whole experience, must have been so surreal, right?” the friend asked. He said, “it was fun, but it’s not like that if I wouldn’t have done it, I would have missed something in life.” The friend thought that these are just comforting words so that he doesn’t feel that he is missing something big. After all, he was always a cheerful guy and cared for the happiness of others. But this was really what he meant. Even something, that’s supposed to “fill the soul”, wasn’t even satisfying enough for him.
There was a constant emptiness, a sort of vacuum that was enshrouding him every moment of his life. Something that kept pulling him. Every time he tried to express it, was ignored. For everyone else, no one’s life could be more perfect than the one he had.
Even today you can hear the echoes of his plea, though the words aren’t clear, near his grave. All through his little life, there was an attempted expression, that no one understood. All the way through he was ‘not waving but drowning‘.
Florence Margaret Smith, known as Stevie Smith (20 September 1902 – 7 March 1971), was an English poet and novelist. She was awarded the Cholmondeley Award for Poets and won the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry. A play Stevie by Hugh Whitemore, based on her life, was adapted into a film starring Glenda Jackson.
Stevie Smith suffered depression throughout her life. During the days, she had trouble with her secretarial job (in which she was involved for the past 20 years) and difficulty finding publishers for her writings, she wrote this poem. “Not waving but drowning” was definitely her call for help, an SOS signal that she gave to say that she was dying from inside. A call that nobody gave ear to. It is said that a few months after writing this poem, Stevie cut her wrist, while in her office.
To read more about Stevie Smith, click here.
This is an extremely sad and gloomy poem. A poem about a man who seems happy and full of life all the time. But inside he is dying. He gives signals about his state of mind, calling for help or maybe an ear who could hear. But either the world was deaf or ignorant or deaf during his life.
And now when he lies dead, the world is trying to find inferences as to what could be the reasons. “It must have been too cold for him” that his heart couldn’t bear the cold weather. But the fact is that it was always “too cold” for him.
If you read the poem again, the speaker in the first and third paragraphs is the dead man. While in the second paragraph it is someone speaking for him.
There is a very beautiful use of the word “still”. It gives the word a double meaning, and the writer most-likely wants to imply both. One use is to imply that maybe he is moaning yet. And second to imply the motionless stance of the dead man.
To read more famous poems by the finest writers ever, click here.