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Beneath the Surface: An In-Depth Investigation of the concept of drowning in Stevie Smith’s poetry

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  1. In poetry, the fact that something is brought up or referred to is irrelevant.
  2. The theme of drowning is something that comes up in three entirely different poems that Smith wrote over the years.
  3. Drowning ?resurfaces? in Smith's Advice to Young Children.
  4. Third and last of Smith's poems that refer to drowning, is perhaps her most famous poem, Not Waving but Drowning.
  5. Drowning is defined through a strange obsession in The River God.

In poetry, the fact that something is brought up or referred to is irrelevant. Nothing is definitive or solid in poetry unless the poet absolutely intends for it to be. In Stevie Smith's works, it is difficult to try and understand how she intends for the reader to think. Her short poems and drawings make it seem as if she is not to be taken seriously, which could not be any further from the truth.
At first glance, poems by Stevie Smith may appear to be juvenile and intended for young audiences due to their relative short nature and half-serious cartoon drawings. However, by no means can Smith be considered a ?children's poet,? or even an optimist most of the time. Much of Smith's material presents itself as somber and melancholy, and with that, a number of subtle nuances hint towards a deeper, darker side of Smith that may often get overlooked on the surface.

[...] waving but drowning,? essentially stands for I wasn't alright all along, I was awful.? So in essence the line that is repeated twice in the poem could be paraphrased as ?Nobody ever really did understand what was going on, I was not alright all along, I was awful, and no one knew, and now I am gone.? In this poem, the concept of drowning is a more complex one that involves an individual's life, the struggles they have been through, and the entire lack of compassion throughout their existence. [...]

[...] Here, Smith uses the concept of paddling in the ocean, with the repercussion of drowning, as advice with life and relationships. ?Children who paddle where the ocean bed shelves steeply must take great care they do not, paddle too deeply.? In this first line, Smith could be talking about literally anything. However it is in the next line, Smith has the reader just where she wants them, anticipating the next line, as well their own personal interpretation and meaning. ?Thus spake the awful aging couple whose heart the years had turned to rubble.? As most poetry will do, this poem confuses the reader here, wondering what is going on. [...]

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