Biography of Stevie Smith
Florence Margaret Smith was born on September 20, 1902 in Hull, England. Her father left the family to join the North Sea Patrol when she was just a young girl. She moved at the age of three to Palmers Green where she attended the North London Collegiate School. While still only a teenager her mother died and she and her sister went to live with their spinster aunt. The aunt became an important figure in her life, affectionately known as "The Lion".
After high school she attended North London Collegiate School for Girls. She began as a secretary with the magazine publisher George Newnes and went on to be the private secretary to Sir Nevill Pearson and Sir Frank Newnes. She began writing poetry in her twenties while working at George Newnes. Her first book, Novel on Yellow Paper, was published in 1936 and drew heavily on her own life experience, examining the unrest in England during World War I. Her first collection of verse, A Good Time Was Had By All (1937), also contained rough sketches or doodles, which became characteristic of her work. These drawings have both a feeling of caprice and doom, and the poetry in the collection is stylistically typical of Smith as it conveys serious themes in a nursery rhyme structure.
While Smith's volatile attachment to the Church of England is evident in her poetry, death, her "gentle friend," is perhaps her most popular subject. Much of her inspiration came from theology and the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. She enjoyed reading Tennyson and Browning and read few contemporary poets in an attempt to keep her voice original and pure. Her style is unique in its combination of seemingly prosaic statements, variety of voices, playful meter, and deep sense of irony. Smith was officially recognized with the Chomondeley Award for Poetry in 1966 and the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1969. Smith died of a brain tumor in 1971.
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Stevie Smith Poems
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.
I Do Not Speak
I do not ask for mercy for understanding for peace And in these heavy days I do not ask for release I do not ask that suffering shall cease.
The Pleasures Of Friendship
Alone In The Woods
Alone in the woods I felt The bitter hostility of the sky and the trees Nature has taught her creatures to hate Man that fusses and fumes
Never again will I weep And wring my hands And beat my head against the wall Because
The Jungle Husband
Dearest Evelyn, I often think of you Out with the guns in the jungle stew Yesterday I hittapotamus I put the measurements down for you but they got lost in the fuss
It was my bridal night I remember, An old man of seventy-three I lay with my young bride in my arms, A girl with t.b.
My life is vile I hate it so I'll wait awhile And then I'll go.
Drugs Made Pauline Vague
Drugs made Pauline vague. She sat one day at the breakfast table Fingering in a baffled way The fronds of the maidenhair plant.
Mother, Among The Dustbins
Mother, among the dustbins and the manure I feel the measure of my humanity, an allure As of the presence of God, I am sure
Walking swiftly with a dreadful duchess, He smiled too briefly, his face was pale as sand, He jumped into a taxi when he saw me coming, Leaving my alone with a private meaning,
Tenuous And Precarious
Tenuous and Precarious Were my guardians, Precarious and Tenuous, Two Romans.
My Heart Was Full
Happiness is silent, or speaks equivocally for friends,
Grief is explicit and her song never ends,
Happiness is like England, and will not state a case,
Grief, like Guilt, rushes in and talks apace.