Essay on Black Humor Through Poetry in Stevie Smiths Not Waving But Drowning

Essay on Black Humor Through Poetry in Stevie Smiths Not Waving But Drowning

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Black Humor Through Poetry in Stevie Smiths Not Waving But Drowning

In the poetry of Margaret “Stevie” Smith (1902-1971), life and death are constantly being juxtaposed. For Smith, life was usually a painful or tedious experience and death a blessed escape from its misery and futility. Having had a religious upbringing, she is also much preoccupied with God, but cannot accept traditional Christian teaching about redemption and heaven. Death is seen as an end, rather than a beginning and a relief, instead of a gateway to a reward. In “Not Waving but Drowning”, Smith’s philosophy of life as a pointless and sad experience for many people, is focused on the event of a drowning man. In the style of the poem, she writes characteristically, here, in the off-hand, irregular lyricism - often bordering on the conversational - which is the distinctive feature of her manner.

“Smith was born in Yorkshire, England but lived all but the first three years of her life in her aunt’s house in Palmers Green, London” (Washington University Libraries). She went to work at a publishing office owned by George Newnes, Ltd. soon after her graduation from North London Collegiate School (Washington Univeristy Libraries). Although continuing to write through the 1940’s and 1950’s her work was ignored by critics and the public until about the last ten years of her life (Washington Univeristy Libraries). Smith received the prestigious Queen's Gold Medal award for her poetry in 1969, two years before her death (Washington Univeristy Libraries).

Smith uses simple, short sentences, “barely audible” to express “feelings such as emotional pain, tenderness, sadness, loss, and despair” (Sternlicht 63). “Not Waving but Drowning” is saturated with...

... middle of paper ..., alliteration, tone, and theme the poet would have clearly had the daunting task of conveying her message to us with rather unfamiliar and impossible alternative methods. The poet’s method instead allows her to fully express the true experience of a melancholy and humorously comedic approach to death and inevitably “her own extinction” as well as our own (Sternlicht 95).


Smith, Stevie. “Not Waving But Drowing.” Literature: Reading, Reating, Writing. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. 4th ed. Florida: Harcourt College Publishers, 2001. 992.

Sternlicht, Sanford. In Search of Stevie Smith. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1991.

- - -. Stevie Smith. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
“Stevie Smith, 1902-1971, British Author” Dictionary of Literary

Biography. 1978. Washington University Libraries, Washington. 3 Mar. 2002 .

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