Not Waving But Drowning Poem by Stevie Smith

Not Waving But Drowning

Rating: 4.2

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.

Jenna Gazarek 19 December 2006

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.

35 5 Reply
Dan Sever 14 January 2009

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.

27 10 Reply
Jackie Becker 04 January 2009

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...

24 10 Reply
Yasmin El Tahtawy 13 January 2007

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.

24 9 Reply
Tim Woodhouse 02 November 2008

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...

26 5 Reply
Sylvia Frances Chan 19 March 2024

Most deserving as The Modern Poem Of The Day! Congratulations.5 Stars

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Sylvia Frances Chan 19 March 2024

"Not Waving but Drowning" serves as a powerful reminder of the complexities of human communication and the profound impact of misunderstanding. It invites us to consider the hidden struggles that people face beneath their outward facades.

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Sylvia Frances Chan 04 September 2021

Very melancolic poem. True sad

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Sylvia Frances Chan 30 August 2021

Excellent poem but very thought-provoking

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Sylvia Frances Chan 30 August 2021

Very heart touching poem

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Stevie Smith

Stevie Smith

Kingston upon Hull
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