Not Waving but Drowning (Poetry Analysis)

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Not Waving But Drowning (Poetry Analysis)

In the poem by Stevie Smith, Not Waving But Drowning there are a number of elements that are intriguing and to the reader. The poem is mostly spoken from a narrative point of view, but it may infer a first person perspective because it centers on a man who is apparently misunderstood by those around him, including the speaker that recalls the tragic scene. The poem paints a conflicting image of a man that has fallen to the sea because despite his efforts in seeking help, his outward appearance and his behavior betray his true desperation.

Not Waving But Drowning’s poetic form that is seemingly free verse, as it does not have a consistent rhythm throughout the entire poem, although it does consist of some rhyming and some element of structure: “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 (Smith, 1957)”.
Free verse poetry is used widely by modern poets and many seem to suggest an idea or feeling to the reader.

The poem also consists of an interesting use of symbolism that may suggest an underlying subject that is being addressed. In the poem, Smith may be trying to convey personal thoughts about abandonment to the audience. This can be referred to the fact that Smith herself had a difficult past with the passing of her mother in her early adult life and that her father had left his family behind to pursue a career in sailing (Booth, 2002). The poem seems to incorporate metaphors of an ocean and how a drowning person’s callings for help may be misinterpreted for joyous hand gestures of ‘waving’.

The sound and tone of the poem is serious, given that it seems to touch on the subject of death, confusion and desertion. The use of words in Stevie Smith’s Not Waving But Drowning seem to have limited use of alliteration due to its free verse structure, as this example shows: “Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay...
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