Stevie Smith’s poem “Not Waving but Drowning” gets anthologized a lot, and it is great. But it is elliptical; it isn’t as direct as another poem of hers about depression, one that is not in the Norton Anthology. Now this poem is crunchingly honest about depression and self-destructiveness:

In my dreams I am always saying goodbye and riding away,

Whither and why I know not, nor do I care.

And the parting is sweet and the parting over is sweeter

And sweetest of all is the night and the rushing air.

In my dreams they are always waving their hands and saying goodbye,

And they give me the stirrup cup and I smile as I drink.

I am glad the journey is set, I am glad I am going,

I am glad, I am glad that my friends don’t know what I think.

I like the way she goes from “sweet” to “sweeter” to “sweetest” in the first stanza, and how she repeats “I am glad” four times in the second stanza. That’s what it is like to befriend your depression, like a homosexual coming out publicly with their love. It is a debutante ball, a public waltz with your secret beloved. This poem makes sense of St Francis beating himself through the exhilarating pain until he passes out: This is who I am. Smith both shields her friends— she says they “don’t know what I think”— and publishes her secret thoughts. Those social connections, so important, so strong for others, are always about to finally fall apart for us.

They call it self-destructiveness, but that’s not right. It is self-creation, really: the self-abuse says This is who I am. The greeting to friends that announces your parting– that, I feel too, is sweetest of all.