Essay on Not Waving but Drowning Analysis

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Pages: 7

Paper on “Not Waving but Drowning”

Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving but Drowning” is a short poem consisting of only twelve lines; however, understanding it is not as easy as it looks because it contains so many factors that make the poem very ambiguous. Smith employs two contradictory tones ironically in the same poem to represent the internal conflict that the speaker is suffering. The poem’s central metaphor of calling out for help while drowning but being misunderstood as waving indicates that this conflict stems from the miscommunication between the speaker and the society. In public, the speaker fakes a bright and lively personality even though inside, he is feeling isolated and lonely. Smith accentuates the importance of personal and
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The repetition of the words “still” and “always” in the poem shows that this phenomenon has been happening for a long time. Consequently, the speaker had to hide his real personality deeper and deeper in order to make his public self more natural and this led to what he calls the “death” of his true self and only the empty shell lives to listen to his real but fallen personality moaning. Smith also establishes a close connection between the speaker’s dualism, and his social isolation although it is unclear which one is the cause and which one is the effect. Including the title, the expression “not waving but drowning” appears three times in this short 12-line poem, emphasizing the miscommunication; the speaker waves his arms to alert other people of his fragile state, but ironically they understand it as a sign of happiness and well-being. Furthermore, they assume that something must have changed or happened to make him cold enough to affect his heart. But this is immediately denied by the speaker that claims he “was too cold always”(9); this misunderstanding has been occurring for a long time. In addition, the poem rhymes in every other line, suggesting even though it first seems to have no rule, there is a big pattern that combine these irregularities like waves that come regularly but in different forms;