Stevie Smith

(20 September 1902 – 7 March 1971 / Kingston upon Hull)

Not Waving But Drowning - Poem 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.

Comments about Not Waving But Drowning by Stevie Smith

  • (11/26/2018 9:38:00 AM)

    Not Waving but Drowning on music! You will find my version at https: // (Report) Reply

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  • (5/21/2018 4:23:00 PM)

    To many interpretations excepting the first lines (Report) Reply

  • Naida Nepascua Supnet (9/20/2014 8:44:00 PM)

    TIM MANZANO understood the poem perfectly
    as if he wrote it himself
    nice poem- something to ponder
    10 points
    (Report) Reply

  • (9/20/2014 9:57:00 AM)

    It helps to have a look at Stevie Smith`s life to understand her style. I detect a slight pre-Plathian tendency in her work, in the sense she was too a confessional poet. (Report) Reply

  • Aftab Alam Khursheed (9/20/2014 2:30:00 AM)

    In this poem and the comments read carefully but the comment made by TIM MANZANO covers the poem....what i think, if one is away from the fact e.g a man swimming, waving, his movements of arm and hand is clearly may think he is enjoying whereas fact is..he is drowning..a message deeds and action that kills..wolf..wolf..non turned up..larking...thats the end of joy (Report) Reply

  • (6/18/2014 4:51:00 PM) true....most people who are drowning..... are thought to be waving... (Report) Reply

  • (5/18/2014 12:35:00 PM)

    Such a great poem but so incredibly sad. (Report) Reply

  • (1/9/2014 10:33:00 PM)

    This is about being misunderstood. I have been too far out all my life as well. NOTHING to do with depression. He was a joker (larking) and when he actually needed help everybody thought he was joking around. (misunderstood) . Wonderful poem. (Report) Reply

  • (10/30/2013 6:46:00 AM)

    Wonderful poem, with great thought. (Report) Reply

  • Anita Sehgal (9/22/2012 12:33:00 AM)

    beautifully expressed... great read (Report) Reply

  • (1/17/2010 2:59:00 AM)

    Really well put together - I really like this almost question and answer.

    David M
    (Report) Reply

  • (1/14/2009 11:10:00 AM)

    This poem is a better version of 'Richard Corey.' Both deal with the apparent happiness on the outside yet reveals (through suicide in 'Richard Corey') a darker side from each protagonist. Now Stevie never fully discloses whether the dead man killed himself or just died miserably but the audience fully understands his pain through lines like, 'I was much further out than you thought, ' repeated to emphasize just how distant he felt from the pack. It's a snarl mistaken for a smile. EVERYTHING IS NOT OK. (Report) Reply

  • (1/4/2009 4:48:00 AM)

    It's simplistic to talk about 'depression' in relation to this poem. One may feel depressed for a while about a particular problem, or one may suffer from clinical depression whcih is quite different. To feel alienated, that one is not understood, that one is a square peg in a round hole, that one has never found one's place in the world, is not depression. Maybe what Smith was writing about here was a reluctance to communicate, and more obviously she was writing about people's inability to see beyond the presented surface.
    Sometimes people say to me that in spite of whatever difficulties I have, I always sound cheerful, I am always able to laugh. It's hysteria, I reply...
    (Report) Reply

  • (11/2/2008 4:19:00 PM)

    Sometimes I put on a jovial facade to hide my fears and inadequacies only to feel that I'm slowly sinking under the pressure.
    The poem doesn't have to be about suicide or depression, more perhaps about not really coping despite others thinking that we have no worries or problems.
    I know work colleagues who have suddenly resigned and walked out because things were too much for them, taking us all by surprise.You could say that their careers have 'died' or certainly that a period of their lives has 'died'. It's just a thought...
    (Report) Reply

  • (10/20/2007 4:21:00 PM)

    It appears to me that all of the comments represent excellent interpretations. However, I don't know that Stevie Smith was depressed. I suspect that 'not waving but drowning' represented the predictment that many women found themselves in during her time and prior to her. It must have been frustrating and depressing (not in the clinical sense) to be a very intelligent woman 'further out' but expected only to smile and be charming 'waving' while being spiritually boxed in 'drowning'. (Report) Reply

  • (10/11/2007 12:28:00 PM)

    The poem is clearly about not only the people's misinterpretation but also their detachment, hence they fail to understand that it was 'too cold always'. If it is about detachment then it is also about being absorbed in one's own personal life and strife and dismissive of other's. Is it not ironic then, that Stevie Smith is imposing her own despair at being ignored, due to the self-absorption of others, on another's despair? ie, is depression the epitome of self-absorption and detachment from others. Or perhaps the drowning man is a direct symbol of her depression rather-which would mean the 1st person is the dead man, which is how most interpret it. Perhaps not though. (Report) Reply

  • (1/13/2007 12:36:00 PM)

    This man is dead. He has killed himself. He suffered from severe depression and hid it behind a facade of 'larking.' The waving/drowning metaphor represents how everybody around him was unaware of his distress, they thought he was happily waving when in fact he was slowly getting further out of his depth. The fact that, in the poem, he was so far away from everybody that they could not tell drowning from waving implies that he had nobody close enough to understand him; nobody cared to look hard enough to see that he was in trouble. Afterwards they couldn't understand why he had committed suicide as he had acted the role of happy 'larking' swimmer so well. (Report) Reply

  • (12/19/2006 12:14:00 PM)

    I think that it may be the opposite. I think that this man (in the poem) was seriously depressed, but no one around him noticed. 'Nobody heard him, the dead man, But still he lay moaning; ' he was trying to reach out but no one heard him. He wasn't physically dead, but emotionally. As someone who has personal experience with depression I understand that sometimes no matter how loud you scream, no one hears you. (Report) Reply

  • (5/10/2006 5:57:00 PM)


    Stevie is not a he; Stevie is a she. Or rather, Stevie was a she. I think people are losing any sense of empathy, compassion. Any time someone feels meloncholy, isolated, people respond by suggesting the person see a psychiatrist to diagnose the 'problem, ' which is always assumed to be something internal, a chemical imbalance or some such.
    (Report) Reply

  • (5/9/2006 8:33:00 AM)

    To me it it describes stevie. He was having problems and not calling out for help but rather 'drowning' as he put it. sorry Carole Burr but i don't think it means we're all alone but instead stevie was all alone. (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: heart, life

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

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