“Not Waving But Drowing”
The poem ‘Not Waving But Drowning’, by Stevie Smith, is a poem in which there is a drowning man at sea. In this poem, the poet is talking about the difficulty of communication and the fundamental isolation of the individual in modern society. The title of the poem gives us an immediate indication that the poem will tackle a serious matter. The poem contains three voices; the drowning man, the observers and the people on the beach. It can be interpreted on both a literal and metaphorical level of meaning. Stevie Smith explores the idea of isolation by being misunderstood by the people around you. The poet deepens the reader’s appreciation of the theme by employing form, mood and multiple narrators. As we start reading the poem, the use of multiple narrators in the first stanza gives the first few lines a conversational feel. It starts out with a 3rd person perspective, and then switches to first person. “Nobody heard the dead man, // But still he lay moaning: // I was much further out than you thought // And not waving but drowning” (Smith, lines 1-2). In the first line, the third person narrator is describing how no one recognized the fact that the “dead man” was struggling, even when he was so desperately trying to communicate his suffering. Additionally, in the second line, the “dead man” seems to reiterate to the first narrator that he was indeed suffering, and that no one realized what was happening. In different narrators, it can be seen as both physical and emotional isolation are explored with the imagery of a drowned man. The poem is made up of three stanzas which consist of four lines each. In the entire poem, there is a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB in all of the three stanzas. The lines in the poem are all of irregular length. The first and the third stanzas are similar because in each of these stanzas both the drowning man and the persona can be heard speaking. In fact, the third and fourth lines in both stanzas are very...
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