“Not Waving But Drowning” – a poem by Stevie Smith

October 30, 2008 at 1:50 am (Bouchercon 2008, Poetry)

One of the many gifts I took away from Bouchercon was a work by British poet Stevie Smith. It happened on Friday Oct. 10 during one of our favorite sessions, “Come and Talk To Me: Three goddesses talking.” This was more of a spontaneous bull session than a panel discussion. The authors sat informally in front of the tables; the format worked wonderfully.

Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, and Louise Penny

Left to right: Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, and Louise Penny

The “goddesses” in question were Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, and Louise Penny, wonderful writers all and terrifically entertaining to boot.

At one point in the midst of a spirited exchange, Louise paid homage to the power of poetry by quoting some lines from “Not Waving But Drowning.”  If memory serves, these were the lines: “I was much further out than you thought / And not waving  but drowning.”

There was a collective gasp from the audience. The image was so immediate; the words so terse and full of anguish, we were temporarily stunned into silence.

Here, in its entirety, is “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.

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