Monday, October 18, 2010

Drowning not Waving

In a crowded Greek diner last week, the kind that seems to be gradually disappearing from the social landscape of New York, I overheard the phrase ‘drowning not waving’. Turning and scanning the room I could not determine who uttered those words, but I began to wonder how, and if, the lines of an fairly obscure British poet, Stevie Smith, had become a buzzword:

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.

At home, later that day, an inevitable Google search revealed no less than three pop songs with that title, at least one disbanded band with that name, and numerous references in popular culture from The Economist to daytime television to independent filmmaking. Most seemed to have some British connotation.

In the meantime, when asked to contribute to this lovely blog all week as the editor of Dear Dave, magazine, my first thoughts, of course, were to highlight photographic information. But please accept the publishing of this compelling and provocative poem as an exercise in visual misinterpretation and literacy.