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Not Waving but Drowning Analysis Essay

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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…show more content…
Moreover, the speaker uses words that describe distance such as “far”(11) and “further”(3) that in this poem, perhaps referring to his relationships to the society. Even the first impression of the poem, the comical tone, now signifies the lightness meaninglessness of these connections without sincerity. This contrast between the two tones indicates how the speaker feels as if he is separated both physically and mentally from his surroundings like the society, his friends or even his family. These two seemingly opposite tones and moods existing in one poem simultaneously resemble the ambiguity in the speaker that he reveals when he describes his condition very ambiguously. For instance, in the first line, he portrays himself as a “dead man”(1), but in the line immediately after, the dead man is moaning, which is biologically impossible. The unclear subject raises the issue of who the speaker is, if he should not be able to comment on himself because he is already dead. When the speaker uses the same pronouns, “he” and “him” from both the first person and the third person perspectives to refer to himself, this becomes even more puzzling; the readers are no longer sure of who the speaker is and who the subject of the poem is. One possible cause of these uncertainties is the discrepancy between the speaker’s real self and his public self; one that resembles who he
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