Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Death's Waterfall

Stevie Smith said:

I love death, I think it’s the most exciting thing. As one gets older one gets into this – well it’s like a race, before you get to the waterfall, when you feel the water slowly getting quicker and quicker, and you can’t get out, and all you want to do is get to the waterfall and over the edge. How exciting it is! Why do people grumble about old age so much?

I’ve never heard anyone express quite that attitude before, and I can think of a few reasons why people might grumble. But there’s no doubt she meant what she said. Perhaps her attitude to death mirrored her attitude to life?

In any case, Stevie Smith died of a brain tumour on this date, 7 March, 36 years ago, aged 68.

8 comments:

Andrew Shields said...

She'd been too far out all her life. Perhaps that why she said that about death.

Why is it that I had always been told she committed suicide?

Rob said...

She was quite obsessive over death and that shows up in her poetry. But no suicide. Maybe we expect unusual poets to commit suicide.

Mark McGuinness said...

Brilliant quote. Didn't Swift say something like he couldn't imagine, considering all the benefits, why anyone would complain about death?

G said...

Wow. Why not look at death that way? I think it's fantastic.

Anonymous said...

When you read Spalding's excellent biog of Stevie Smith, the end is desperately sad and not at all glamorous and waterfall-y. A petrified and withered Stevie with a brain tumour is propped up in a hospital bed, far from her friends, slowly and painfully dying.

Roddy

Andrew Shields said...

I just want to make clear that I had not interpreted Smith's work and concluded that she had committed suicide, but that I was TOLD that she had. This was back in the 80s, so I could not have done an Internet search to quickly confirm or refute that claim!

Rob said...

I found the quote alarming, for reasons that Roddy alludes to. I've seen a lot of people die in awful circumstances. But there is a distinction to be drawn between the process of dying, which can be terrible, and death itself, which is the great unknown.

Stevie Smith's rapid waters seem to refer to the process of growing older, and going over the edge would be death. I suppose most of us would want to go over the edge as quickly and painlessly as possible.

But unfortunately, as Milosz put it, "...the heart doesn't die when one thinks it should."

K said...

Stevie is probably one of the most underappreciated poets of the past century. I have decided to open a blog where I will talk about a lot of the themes that run through her work.

I am paricularly fascinated by Stevie's dialogue with God that lasts her entire life.

As a backdrop to some of her thoughts about the person of Jesus, I share some of her private thoughts about him and how "Was He Married" can be read in this light. Check it out, if you guys are Stevie's fans, remember my blog address, that you can get by clicking on my name.