Bag-Snatching in Dublin

Deeply Morbid

Drugs Made Pauline Vague

Edmonton, thy cemetery . . .


I do not Speak

In the Night

My Heart Goes Out

My Heart Was Full

Never Again

Nor We of Her to Him

Not Waving but Drowning

Pad, pad 

The Frog Prince

The Pleasures of Friendship

The Reason

Thoughts about the Christian Doctrine of Eternal Hell






b. Sept. 20, 1902, Hull, Yorkshire, Eng.

d. March 7, 1971, London

pseudonym of FLORENCE MARGARET SMITH, British poet who expressed an original and visionary personality in her work, combining a lively wit with penetrating honesty and an absence of sentiment.

For most of her life Smith lived with an aunt in the same house in Palmers Green, a northern London suburb. After attending school there, she worked, until the early 1950s, as a secretary in the London offices of a magazine publisher. She then lived and worked at home, caring for her elderly aunt who had raised her and who died at age 96 in 1968. Palmers Green and the people there are subjects for some of her poetry.

In the 1960s Smith's poetry readings became popular, and she made radio broadcasts and recordings. She also wrote three novels as well as short stories, literary reviews, and essays, but she is remembered chiefly for her poetry.

The Collected Poems of Stevie Smith (1975), illustrated with her Thurber-like sketches, includes her first book of poems, A Good Time Was Had by All (1937) and Not Waving but Drowning (1957), the title poem of which appears in many anthologies. The lines of her verse are often short and telling. They slip in and out of metre and rest on assonance and broken rhyme in ways that arrest attention. She addresses serious themes with a clarity critics often call childlike. The theme of death recurs often. Me Again: Uncollected Writings of Stevie Smith, Illustrated by Herself (1981) is a posthumous compilation of her prose writings, letters, and previously uncollected poetry.



A Selected Bibliography



    A Good Time Was Had By All (1937)

    Tender Only to One (1938)

    Mother, What is Man? (1942)

    Harold's Leap (1950)

    Not Waving But Drowning (1957)

    Selected Poems (1962)

    The Frog Prince and Other Poems (1966)

    The Best Beast (1969)

    Two in One (1971)

    Scorpion and Other Poems (1972)

    Collected Poems (1975)


    A Very Pleasant Evening with Stevie Smith: Selected Short Prose (1995)


    A Novel on Yellow Paper (1936)

    Over the Frontier (1938)

    The Holiday (1949)

    Some Are More Human Than Others (1958)

    Me Again: Uncollected Writings of Stevie Smith (1981)





Thoughts about the Christian Doctrine of Eternal Hell


Is is not interesting to see

How the Christians continually

Try to separate themselves in vain

From the doctrine of eternal pain?


They cannot do it,

They are vowed to it,

The Lord said it,

They must believe it.


So the vulnerable body is stretched

            without pity

On flames forever. Is this not pretty?


The religion of Christianity

Is mixed of sweetness and cruelty.

Reject this Sweetness for she wears

A smoky dress out of hell fires.


Who makes a god, who pains him thus?

It is the Christian religion does.


Oh oh have none of it,

Blow it away, have done with it.



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.  



To hear the author reading this poem click here



 The Reason


My life is vile

I hate it so

I'll wait awhile

And then I'll go.


Why wait at all?

Hope springs alive,

Good may befall

I yet may thrive.


It is because I can't make up my mind

If God is good, impotent or unkind.







The Frog Prince

 I am a frog
 I live under a spell
 I live at the bottom
 Of a green well
 And here I must wait
 Until a maiden places me
 On her royal pillow
 And kisses me
 In her father's palace.
 The story is familiar
 Everybody knows it well
 But do other enchanted people feel as nervous
 As I do? The stories do not tell,
 Ask if they will be happier
 When the changes come
 As already they are fairly happy
 In a frog's doom?
 I have been a frog now
 For a hundred years
 And in all this time
 I have not shed many tears,
 I am happy, I like the life,
 Can swim for many a mile
 (When I have hopped to the river)
 And am for ever agile.
 And the quietness,
 Yes, I like to be quiet
 I am habituated
 To a quiet life,
 But always when I think these thoughts
 As I sit in my well
 Another thought comes to me and says:
 It is part of the spell
 To be happy
 To work up contentment
 TO make much of being a frog
 To fear disenchantment
 Says, it will be heavenly
 To be set free,
 Cries, Heavenly the girl who disenchants
 And the royal times, heavenly,
 And I think it will be.
 Come then, royal girl and royal times,
 Come quickly,
 I can be happy until you come
 But I cannot be heavenly,
 Only disenchanted people
 Can be heavenly.




Pad, pad


I always remember your beautiful flowers

And the beautiful kimono you wore

When you sat on the couch

With that tigerish crouch

And told me you loved me no more.


What I cannot remember is how I felt when you were unkind

All I know is, if you were unkind now I should not mind.

Ah me, the power to feel exaggerated, angry and sad

The years have taken from me. Softly I go now, pad pad.





Nor We of Her to Him


He said no word of her to us

Nor we of her to him,

But oh it saddened us to see

How wan he grew and thin.

We said: she eats him day and night

And draws the blood from him,

We did not know but said we thought

This was why he grew thin.


One day we called and rang the bell,

No answer came within,

We said: She must have took him off

To the forest old and grim,

It has fell out, we said, that she

Eats him in forest grim,

And how can we help him being eaten

Up in forests grim?


It is a restless time we spend,

We have no help from him,

We walk about and go to bed,

It is no help to him.

Sometimes we shake our heads and say

It might have better been

If he had spoke of us to her

Or we of her to him.

Which makes us feel helpful, until

The silence comes again.





In the Night


I longed for companionship rather,

But my companions I always wished farther.

And now in the desolate night

I think only of the people i should like to bite.





Drugs Made Pauline Vague


Drugs made Pauline vague.

She sat one day at the breakfast table

Fingering in a baffled way

The fronds of the maidenhair plant.


Was it the salt you were looking for dear?

said Dulcie, exchanging a glance with the Brigadier.

Chuff chuff Pauline what's the matter?

Said the Brigadier to his wife

Who did not even notice

What a handsome couple they made.





I do not Speak


I do not ask for mercy for understanding for peace

And in these heavy days I do not ask for release

I do not ask that suffering shall cease.


I do not pray to God to let me die

To give an ear attentive to my cry

To pause in his marching and not hurry by.


I do not ask for anything I do not speak

I do not question and I do not seek

I used to in the day when I was weak.


Now I am strong and lapped in sorrow

As in a coat of magic mail and borrow

From Time today and care not for tomorrow.






Never Again


Never again will I weep

And wring my hands

And beat my head against the wall


Me nolentem fata trahunt


When I have had enough

I will arise

And go unto my Father

And I will say to Him:

Father, I have had enough.





Deeply Morbid


Deeply morbid deeply morbid was the girl who typed the letters

Always out of office hours running with her social betters

But when daylight and the darkness of the office closed about her

Not for this ah not for this her office colleagues came to doubt her

It was that look within her eye

Why did it always seem to say goodbye?


Joan her name was and at lunchtime

Solitary solitary

She would go and watch the pictures In the National Gallery

All alone all alone

This time with no friend beside her

She would go and watch the pictures

All alone.


Will she leave her office colleagues

Will she leave her evening pleasures

Toil within a friendly bureau

Running later in her leisure?

All alone all alone

Before the pictures she seemed turned to stone.


Close upon the Turner pictures

Closer than a thought may go

Hangs her eye and all the colours

Leap into a special glow

All for her, all alone

All for her, all for Joan.


First the canvas where the ocean

Like a mighty animal

With a wicked motion

Leaps for sailors' funeral


Holds her painting. Oh the creature

Oh the wicked virile thing

With its skin of fleck and shadow

Stretching tightening over him.

Wild yet caputured wild yet caputured

By the painter, Joan is quite enraptured.


Now she edges from the canvas

To another loved more dearly

Where the awful light of purest

Sunshine falls across the spray,

There the burning coasts of fancy

Open to her pleasure lay.

All alone all alone

Come away come away

All alone.


Lady Mary, Lady Kitty

The Honourable Featherstonehaugh

Polly Tommy from the office

Which of these shall hold her now?

Come away come away

All alone.


The spray reached out and sucked her in

It was hardly a noticed thing

That Joan was there and is not now

(Oh go and tell young Featherstonehaugh)

Gone away, gone away

All alone.


She stood up straight

The sun fell down

There was no more of London Town

She went upon the painted shore

And there she walks for ever more

Happy quite

Beaming bright

In a happy happy light

All alone.


They say she was a morbid girl, no doubt of it

And what befell her clearly grew out of it

But I say she's a lucky one

To walk for ever in that sun

And as I bless sweet Turner's name

I wish that I could do the same.






Bag-Snatching in Dublin



Walked so nicely

With footsteps so discreet

To see her pass

You'd never guess

She walked upon the street.


Down where the Liffey waters' turgid flood

Churns up to greet the ocean-driven mud,

A bruiser in fix

Murdered her for 6/6.





The Pleasures of Friendship



The pleasures of friendship are exquisite,

How pleasant to go to a friend on a visit!

I go to my friend, we walk on the grass,

And the hours and moments like minutes pass.





My Heart Was Full


My heart was full of softening showers,

I used to swing like this for hours,

I did not care for war or death,

I was glad to draw my breath.








Happiness is silent, or speaks equivocally for friends,

Grief is explicit and her song never ends,

Happiness is like England, and will not state a case,

Grief, like Guilt, rushes in and talks apace.






My Heart Goes Out



My heart goes out to my Creator in love

Who gave me Death, as end and remedy.

All living creatures come to quiet Death

For him to eat up their activity

And give them nothing, which is what they want although

When they are living they do not think so.



January 19, 2010

Edmonton, thy cemetery . . .

by Stevie Smith;


introduced by Andrew McCulloch


Poets are not always well-represented by their best-known poems but Stevie Smith (1902–1971) is one of the fortunate: "Not Waving But Drowning" is a perfect metaphor for the dangerous undertow beneath the whimsical surface current of much of her work. She may appear to be waving but she knows we are all further out than we think. Death fascinated her: she called it "the only god who must come when he is called". But it was not the only god in which she believed – or tried to. In a lecture she gave in 1968 – "Some Impediments to Christian Commitment" – we can see her wrestling with dogma and belief, caught between the "logic" of Catholics and the tendency of Anglicans to "leave ends dangling and hope for the best".

The same fierce, futile desire for conviction drives this almost Metaphysical attempt to "prove" immortality. Things begin promisingly with the quibble on "one" as numeral and pronoun but the mathematical conceit starts to unravel as soon as she admits that "earthly . . . totalling" has "no part at all / In 'heavenly kingdom-come'", and falls to bits completely in the last stanza where all numbers do is remind her of the sheer enormity of what she is trying to argue. Even if the argument implodes, however, the poem is a magnificent success, partly because of the way its loosening shape lets the poet’s fears leak in, but mainly because it rehearses a fundamental truth – that despite the inadequacy of reason, faith alone, for most of us, is not enough.

Edmonton, thy cemetery…

Edmonton, thy cemetery
In which I love to tread
Has roused in me a dreary thought
For all the countless dead,
Ah me, the countless dead.

Yet I believe that one is one
And shall for ever be,
And while I hold to this belief
I walk, oh cemetery,
Thy footpaths happily.

And I believe that two and two
Are but an earthly sum
Whose totalling has no part at all
In heavenly kingdom-come,
I love the dead, I cry, I love
Each happy, happy one.

Till doubt returns with dreary face
And fills my heart with dread
For all the tens and tens and tens
That must make up a hundred,
And I begin to sing with him
As if Belief had never been
Ah me, the countless dead, ah me
The countless countless dead.




by Stevie Smith; introduced by Sophie Hughes

Published: 14 February 2012


In 1833, Coleridge proposed that “The definition of good Prose is – proper words in their proper places – of good Verse – the most proper words in their proper places”. Paul Muldoon alluded to this maxim in 1995 when he dismissed the suggestion that his poem “The Birth” contained deliberately “affected” phrases: “it’s not as if I’m interested in sending people to dictionaries or anything. These are absolutely the right words – at least they try to be the right words in the right order”.

For Stevie Smith (1902–71), too, the discernment of the “right words” has nothing to do with linguistic elitism. Rather, in her poem “Pretty” she explores the overlooked qualities of a word entrenched in the vernacular. Smith’s poems often draw attention to the deeper significance of communications and events. In the case of her best-known poem, “Not Waving But Drowning”, the death of a man who is unaided by onlookers as he drowns at sea is symbolic of a life spent being misunderstood. In “Pretty”, Smith’s subject is the “underrated” word, “pretty”; her agenda is its revival through poetry.

In the first stanza, “pretty” sits awkwardly in its poetic context: “In November the leaf is pretty when it falls”. The reader’s inclination is to see the leaf as something more figurative than simply “pretty”. But repeating a word, as Gertrude Stein maintained, can transform it. Through eighteen repetitions, Smith recovers the word “pretty” from poetic ignominy, each time making it more suited to its subject (“the sky”, “the owl”, “a field in the evening”). In these new surroundings “pretty” is the “right” word and is, itself, cut free, “delivered entirely from humanity”, by whom it was underrated in the first place.


Why is the word pretty so underrated?
In November the leaf is pretty when it falls.
The stream grows deep in the woods after rain
And in the pretty pool the pike stalks.

He stalks his prey, and this is pretty too,
The prey escapes with an underwater flash
But not for long, the great fish has him now.
The pike is a fish who always has his prey

And this is pretty. The water rat is pretty.
His paws are not webbed, he cannot shut his nostrils
As the otter can and the beaver, he is torn between
The land water. Not ‘torn’, he does not mind.

The owl hunts in the evening, and it is pretty
The lake water below him rustles with ice
There is frost coming from the ground, in the air mist.
All this is pretty, it could not be prettier.

Yes, it could always be prettier, the eye abashes.
It is becoming an eye that cannot see enough,
Out of the wood the eye climbs. This is prettier.
A field in the evening, tilting up.

The field tilts to the sky. Though it is late,
The sky is lighter than the hill field.
All this looks easy, but really, it is extraordinary.
Well, it is extraordinary to be so pretty.

And it is careless, and that is always pretty.
This field, this owl, this pike, this pool are careless,
As Nature is always careless and indifferent.
Who sees, who steps, means nothing, and this is pretty.

So a person can come along like a thief – pretty! –
Stealing a look, pinching the sound and feel,
Lick the icicle broken from the bank.
And still say nothing at all, only cry pretty.

Cry pretty, pretty, pretty and you’ll be able
Very soon not even to cry pretty.
And so to be delivered entirely from humanity.
This is prettiest of all, it is very pretty.




Published: 2 January 2013



“Oh grateful colours, bright looks!”


by Stevie Smith; introduced by Kate Miller


Stevie Smith was born Florence Margaret Smith, in 1902, and was nicknamed “Peggy” by her family (“Stevie” came later). She was a devoted niece who lived with her aunt for over sixty years in Palmers Green, the North London suburb she often celebrated for its almond blossom. Having retired early from publishing, Smith was sole carer to her elderly aunt (who was confined to her bedroom from 1962). Smith continued to juggle new demands for her to perform her unusually exclamatory poems. Three novels written in a breathless personal idiom had eclipsed her early poetry but things were changing: Selected Poems (1962) was followed by The Frog Prince (1966) and publishers were at last prepared to include some of the Edward Lear-like drawings she produced as companions to her poems.


This poem of spring with its Sixties colour scheme green/red, ginger/pink and bright “fabricated” things, appeared posthumously in Scorpion and Other Poems (1972; she died in March that year), with her drawing of a dancer in a jaunty skirt. “It is life we are talking about”, she reminds her listener, when “enough has been said to show” – with a run of o-rhymes – delight in the immediacy and “shine” of gardens and house fronts after rain. Promising an ode to colour, she appreciates “bright looks”, but as the puddle reduces the sky to “No colour . . . a negative”, she speaks with foreboding of a “landscape of the dead”, drawing perhaps on Browning’s “Childe Roland”, a favourite poem. As for the exhortation to men to “Seize colours quick” it is, according to Smith’s biographer Frances Spalding, her “Aunt’s habit of exclaiming ‘Men!’” that the poet echoes. In a radio talk for schools, in June 1966, Smith described how writing helped defuse the “pressure of daily life, of having to earn one’s living, of one’s relations with other people, . . . the pressure of despair and the pressure, too, of pleasures that take one’s breath away – colours, animals tearing about, birds fighting to get the best bit of bacon rind”. So practised in her documentary style, splicing clips from conversation with everyday surroundings, Smith reprises Virginia Woolf’s hopes for the novel, examining the “moment” of “an ordinary mind on an ordinary day”.

Oh grateful colours, bright looks!


The grass is green 
The tulip is red 
A ginger cat walks over 
The pink almond petals on the flower bed.
Enough has been said to show 
It is life we are talking about. Oh 
Grateful colours, bright looks! Well, to go 
On. Fabricated things too – front doors and gates, 
Bricks, slates, paving stones – are coloured 
And as it has been raining and is sunny now 
They shine. Only that puddle 
Which, reflecting the height of the sky 
Quite gives one a feeling of vertigo, shows 
No colour, is a negative. Men!
Seize colours quick, heap them up while you can.
But perhaps it is a false tale that says 
The landscape of the dead 
Is colourless.

Stevie Smith (1967)