Sep. 20, 2002


by Donald Hall

Not Waving but Drowning

by Stevie Smith

(RealAudio) | How to listen

: "Not Waving but Drowning," by Stevie Smith from Collected Poems of Stevie Smith (New Directions Publishing Corp.), and "Affirmation," by Donald Hall from The Painted Bed (Houghton Mifflin Company).

Not Waving but Drowning

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.


To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

It's the birthday of Maxwell Evarts Perkins, born in New York City (1884). He was an editor at the publishing house Charles Scribner's Sons, where he helped advance the careers of young, modern authors such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe.

It's the birthday of jazz pianist and composer "Jelly Roll" Morton, born in New Orleans, Louisiana (1890 - sometimes 1885).

It's the birthday of humorist Petroleum V. Nasby, born in Binghamton, New York (1833). Throughout and after the Civil War, he expressed his pro-Union, anti-slavery opinions.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Florence Margaret Smith (also known as Stevie Smith), born in Hull, Yorkshire, England (1902). Her most famous poem is "Not Waving but Drowning." 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.

It's the birthday of Upton Sinclair, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1878). He is most famous for his novel The Jungle, about the meatpacking industry of Chicago and the poor conditions the workers there had to struggle with. He grew up seeing a huge contrast between the poor and the wealthy. His parents were impoverished, his dad an alcoholic. He had to sleep cross-wise across the foot of his parents' bed. He stayed periodically at his wealthy uncle and grandparents' houses in Baltimore, where he got to eat plum pudding laced with brandy. The novel was such a success and so influential that it inspired the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.

It's the birthday of poet Donald Hall, born in New Haven, Connecticut (1928).

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