Sep 11, 2016 - Communication    No Comments

Not waving but drowning

Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith is a poem that reveals a deep undiscovered sadness that has been trapped within the narrator. The poem articulates the story of a drowning man perceived to be waving instead of struggling. This metaphor shows how the narrator has been struggling internally but an outward facing facade has stopped anyone from being able to see that and from being able to help. “Nobody heard him” shows how the narrator’s issues were not being seen while “he always loved larking” depicts the cheerful facade that they have maintained over time.

The poem is divided into three stanzas of four lines; this structure supports the meaning of the poem as the first and last stanzas provide the stark reality contrasting to the falseness of the facade which is portrayed in the middle stanza. The majority of the poem is written in the third person but the third and fourth lines of the first and last stanzas are in the first person. This helps further develop the contrast between the outward happiness and the internal sadness. These lines are also repetitive, reinforcing the mantra like phrase “Not waving but drowning” which in itself is a beautiful depiction of how the narrators panic and struggle can and has been completely misread and how help was seemingly inaccessible to them.

Stevie Smith’s language also supports the message the poem is conveying; describing the narrator as “Poor chap” shows the lightness with which these difficult emotions or issues may have been received by others. “But still he lay moaning” also presents an interesting idea of how the “dead man” is still experiencing that same pain in the extreme despite feeling totally lifeless.

This poem is particularly pertinent at this current time because of the fact that suicide is the leading killer of young men in the UK. Men can often live with struggles but due to encouraged gender stereotypes reinforced in all areas of our society, they are effectively taught to hide negative and difficult emotions because showing them is not considered ‘manly’. These issues of course also affect women dramatically as displays of so called ‘negative’ emotions are considered to be so weak that people train themselves to not cry for example. Stevie Smith’s poem shows just how destructive these attitudes can be and how someone can hold all of these things and not express them and then not know how to access help in times of need leading to many people in our society not waving but drowning.

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