‘Not waving but drowning’ 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.

I admit this is the only poem by Stevie Smith I have ever read. But I always liked it. I think it is easy to relate to. It talks about something that I think we all understand: that there are great — often catastrophic — distances between what we say and what people understand, and between what we mean to say and what we actually express.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh