‘I was much further out than you thought’

I first came across Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving But Drowning” in “The New Oxford Book of English Verse”, chosen and edited by Helen Gardner. This post certainly does the poem justice.

Charlotte Gann

IMG_20180105_125224092_HDRThe poem ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ by Stevie Smith is only twelve lines long. Yet, the first time I read it, it created in my mind, for evermore, a whole world – and life story. Not thepoet’s – or certainly not directly; no, ‘the dead one’’s:

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

The poem paints a vivid scene. We see a man waving; drowning; overhear words spoken perhaps in a crowd – at least, I picture a small knot of people gathering on the shore; maybe, someone quoted in the local news – a witness. (And Stevie Smith did get her original inspiration from a newspaper story, she said.) But these aren’t just casual bystanders; they also know or knew the man, at least in passing. Maybe they’re neighbours, or…

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