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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.

This is a poem by Stevie Smith. It is rather somber, but it builds a nice crescendo towards the end. It is also the rarest of poems in that it ends with a bang, the climax is the final stanza. All too often, as is the case with me, people get too enraptured by the cadence of the words and lose sight of the meaning, words as conveyance of meaning. Stevie Smith did not and this poem is remarkable for it. Not waving but drowning is one of those absolutely classic lines that could apply to a dinner party as much as something more overtly dramatic as someone drifting out to sea.

I do like her wit as made evident by the following quote:
“If I had been the Virgin Mary, I would have said ‘No.”

Classic.

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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