Biography of Stevie Smith
Florence Margaret Smith was born on September 20, 1902 in Hull, England. Her father left the family to join the North Sea Patrol when she was just a young girl. She moved at the age of three to Palmers Green where she attended the North London Collegiate School. While still only a teenager her mother died and she and her sister went to live with their spinster aunt. The aunt became an important figure in her life, affectionately known as "The Lion".
After high school she attended North London Collegiate School for Girls. She began as a secretary with the magazine publisher George Newnes and went on to be the private secretary to Sir Nevill Pearson and Sir Frank Newnes. She began writing poetry in her twenties while working at George Newnes. Her first book, Novel on Yellow Paper, was published in 1936 and drew heavily on her own life experience, examining the unrest in England during World War I. Her first collection of verse, A Good Time Was Had By All (1937), also contained rough sketches or doodles, which became characteristic of her work. These drawings have both a feeling of caprice and doom, and the poetry in the collection is stylistically typical of Smith as it conveys serious themes in a nursery rhyme structure.
While Smith's volatile attachment to the Church of England is evident in her poetry, death, her "gentle friend," is perhaps her most popular subject. Much of her inspiration came from theology and the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. She enjoyed reading Tennyson and Browning and read few contemporary poets in an attempt to keep her voice original and pure. Her style is unique in its combination of seemingly prosaic statements, variety of voices, playful meter, and deep sense of irony. Smith was officially recognized with the Chomondeley Award for Poetry in 1966 and the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1969. Smith died of a brain tumor in 1971.
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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,