A poem to read in the bath… ‘Not Waving but Drowning’

I remember the title of today’s poem from my schooldays but have no strong memory of reading the poem until many years later. But it always made me smile, then feel guilty for smiling.

[photo: poetryfoundation.org]

[photo: poetryfoundation.org]

Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.

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

Stevie Smith [1902-1971] was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, and knowing that made a big impression on me: born in East Yorkshire, 1960. The fact that her family moved to London when she was three didn’t stop me seeing her as a Yorkshire role model. Her poetry never seemed to fit a label and she seems to have been rather overlooked. I love her rather dry wit. My copy of Selected Poems was bought in October 1981, I know this as I have written my name and the date on the inside front cover. The green cover design [below] is still a favourite of mine. Selected poems by stevie smith 19-6-14aTo watch a 1950s seaside film as Stevie Smith recites ‘Not Waving But Drowning’, click here.
To read Stevie Smith’s biography at The Poetry Foundation, click here.
Selected poems by stevie smith - new cover 19-6-14


‘Selected Poems’ by Stevie Smith [Penguin Classics]

5 thoughts on “A poem to read in the bath… ‘Not Waving but Drowning’

  1. Bryan Hemming

    I know the feeling of ‘not waving but drowning’ only too well.

    Stevie Smith reads her poem very dryly indeed. Excellent!

    The summer of 1953 was the year of my first trip to the seaside. We stayed in a caravan – which belonged to a friend of my father’s called Mabel – in Chapel St Leonards, near Skegness in Lincolnshire. The film link reminded me of it.

    Am I the only one who gets the impression parents name girls Mabel out of spite? It’s a bit like calling them Edna, Enid or Ethel; not the best of starts in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. sandradan1 Post author

      Names are just a generational thing. When I grew up all my Mum’s friends were called these sort of names, so to me they seemed ‘old-fashioned’ but I’m sure they will come back into fashion 🙂 SD


          1. Bryan Hemming

            Perhaps you should be in the vanguard of bringing them back in vogue. You could write a blockbuster about two young women sharing a flat before they achieve stardom in the world of rock, movies and modelling. They could be called Ethel Braithwaite and Enid Bottomley!

            Hm, maybe I should do it.

            Liked by 1 person


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