Hardback, 704 pages
Publisher: New Directions (February 2016)
Selected by Barbara Epler
“Just look! Just read! Only someone with the brain of a brick and the heart of a fish couldn’t love Stevie Smith. Her ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ may be the only poem many readers know, but here are hundreds and hundreds of works from her 35-year career. Satirical, mischievous, teasing, disarming and fearsomely intelligent, Smith’s poems take readers from comedy to tragedy and back again, while her line drawings are by turns unsettling and beguiling.” —Barbara Epler
Why Do I…
Why do I think of Death as a friend?
It is because he is a scatterer
He scatters the human frame
The nerviness and the great pain
Throws it on the fresh fresh air
And now it is nowhere
Only sweet Death does this
Sweet Death, kind Death,
Of all the gods you are best.
It was a human face in my oblivion
A human being and a human voice
That cried to me, Come back, come back, come back.
But I would not, I said I would not come back.
It was so sweet in my oblivion
There was a sweet mist wrapped round about
And I trod in a sweet and milky sea, knee deep,
That was so pretty and so beautiful, growing deeper.
But still the voice cried out, Come back, come back,
Come back to me from sweet oblivion!
It was a human and related voice
That cried to me in pain. So I turned back.
I cannot help but like Oblivion better
Than being a human heart and human creature,
But I can wait for her, her gentle mist
And those sweet seas that deepen are my destiny
And must come even if not soon.
Florence Margaret Smith (known as Stevie Smith), 1902-1971, was a poet and novelist. In the 1960s Smith’s poetry performances became increasingly popular; eccentrically styled, she sometimes delivered her work partially in song.