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

This is the first verse of Stevie Smiths classic poem ‘Not Waving But Drowning’. That’s always the dilemna isn’t it? How to determine that the wave isn’t a cry for help. That brave smile could be a grimace in disguise, masking all kinds of pain and anguish. That stiff upper lip could be holding back a tidal wave of of worry.

Smith herself was often drowning when she appeared to be waving. Deserted by her father when she was three, she lived with her mother and her sister Molly in Palmers Green. She suffered from depression all her life and when her mother died when she was sixteen her aunt Madge moved in to look after her. She wrote in several poems that death ‘was the only god who must come when he is called’.

Stevie wrote  3 novels and 10 collections of poems during her lifetime and.although she never married, was said to have been George Orwell’s lover. She never quite abandoned the Anglican faith of her childhood, describing herself as a ‘lapsed athiest’, and one of her poems contains these lines; ‘there is a God in whom I do not believe/Yet to this God my love stretches’.  She died in 1971 aged 69.

might as well finish  ‘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.