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The poem “Not Waving but Drowning” by Stevie Smith is a powerful example of modernist literature, both in its thematic and formal elements. The poem’s central idea of miscommunication and the inability to communicate effectively is a common theme in modernist literature, reflecting the fractured and fragmented nature of modern life. The poem’s form, with its short lines and simple, repetitive structure, also reflects the minimalist and pared-down style of modernist writing. The use of imagery, such as the image of the dead man lying moaning, conveys a sense of haunting and loss, while the repeated refrain of “not waving but drowning” emphasizes the sense of isolation and miscommunication that characterizes modern life. The poem’s open-ended conclusion also reflects the modernist focus on ambiguity and uncertainty, as the reader is left to interpret the meaning of the dead man’s words and the significance of his death. The use of a fragmented narrative structure, with the dead man’s voice interjected into the speaker’s, creates a sense of disorientation and confusion that reflects the modernist concern with the breakdown of traditional forms of communication and the resulting sense of alienation. The poem’s use of irony and ambiguity also contributes to the making of modern British literature, as it challenges readers to question their assumptions and expectations and to consider alternative perspectives on the human experience.

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