Thursday, February 02, 2017

It's poetry day

Back in the early days of blogdom (around the early 2000s), there was a tradition for Groundhog Day/Candlemass/St. Brigid's Day of bloggers choosing a poem, as sort of a "silent poem recitation"

I may be the only one still blogging who has done this. (And it's weird, in a way, I am perhaps one of the "blogging elders" out there - oh, there are people still blogging who have blogged longer than I have, but a great many blogs came on the scene after I'd been at it for a while. And a lot of the blogs I used to read are long gone, and that makes me kind of sad).

But anyway. I still like picking and posting a poem, either one I particularly like or that feels like a touchstone of how things are right now. I may have picked this one in a previous year; I can't remember, but it's one I am thinking of now.

Not the happiest poem ever, but one that struck me on reading it first (way back in junior high or whenever) and one I find myself thinking of today

It's by Stevie Smith (full name: Florence Margaret Smith; I didn't even realize she was a woman until a few years ago)

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.

Yeah, like I said: not a happy poem. But it's one I've always remembered after the first reading, and especially of late, I've used the image of "not waving but drowning" privately to describe how I feel about all that I've taken on and others' reactions to it. The fact that people seem to think I can handle far more than I actually can. And that I may be saying, "Guys, I'm really kind of overwhelmed here" and everyone else seems to be going "Oh, but we know you can do it" when what I am really saying is "I need help."

Stevie Smith herself suffered from problems - shyness, nervousness, and most importantly, depression. She wasn't exactly suicidal but she talked about it. She lost a lot of family young, and also, was a feminist in an era when that would have been more difficult. She also described herself as a "lapsed atheist" - apparently struggling with belief and yet at the same time not quite being able to give it up. 

Incidentally, there is a recording of her reciting this poem (which is probably her most famous): 

"Sometimes the brave defense breaks down" - yes.

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