Stevie Smith


1902

September 20: Florence Margaret Smith born in Hull. She has a sister, Molly, who is two years older than she. She is called Peggy by her family.

1905

SS's father leaves home to become a ship's purser. SS sees very little of him through her childhood, and she resents his abandonment of his family.

SS's extended family moves to Palmer's Green in North London, along with SS's Aunt Maggie, with whom SS will live for the rest of her life.

1907

SS develops tuberculous peritonitis and is sent to a sanitorium, where she'll stay on and off for the next few years. By 1909 she develops a preoccupation with death. She begins to think that if she keeps on crying and refusing to eat she will die and her misery will end. When she finds that she does not die immediately, she begins to think that she need not die today, that death can be put off to another day. However, she will always keep in her mind the thought that death can be summoned at any time if she decides that her suffering is more than she can bear. She continues to find this thought helpful when she becomes depressed.

1919

As SS is preparing to graduate early from the North London Collegiate School, her mother dies of heart disease.

The profound grief and shock the sisters felt at their mother's passing temporarily drew them to the Catholic Church. However, while Molly later converted, SS was both attracted and repelled by what she considered as the sinecure of religion. Although agnostic and often antagonistic to Christianity SS said there was always a danger that she would lapse into belief.

1920

SS wishes to attend the London School of Journalism, but the family cannot afford the tuition. So SS enrolls in in a central London secretarial college to which she commutes daily. During this time she acquires the name "Stevie" when she is riding rented horses in the park with a friend who says that she reminds him of the jockey, Steve Donaghue.

1923

SS begins work as a private secretary to Sir Neville Pearson with Sir George Newnes at Newnes Publishing Company in London. She will remain in this position for three decades.

1928

Meets Karl Eckinger, a German student interested in art, and they spark up a romance which lasts until 1931.

1936

Novel on Yellow Paper, her first book, a stream-of-consciousness autobiographical satire, is published. She writes it after a publisher rejects a book of poetry from her telling her to "go away and write a novel" before writing poetry. She writes the novel in six weeks.

1937

Her first collection of verse, A Good Time Was Had By All, is published. It also contains rough sketches or doodles, which become characteristic of her work. One reviewer call it a mixture of "caprice and doom."

1938

Over The Frontier, her second novel, and Tender Only To One, her second collection of poems, are published.

1940-1945

SS is a fire watcher in London during WWII

1942

Mother, What Is Man?, a third collection, is published.

1949

SS refuses to attend her father's funeral.

The Holiday, her final novel, is published.

1950

Another collection, Harold's Leap, is published, but SS is finding it difficult to place her poetry.

1953

A crisis at work leads to a half-hearted suicide attempt and her retirement from the publishing firm.

Her pension is so small (approximately $7,500 per year in 2008 dollars) that SS supplements it by writing book reviews on a number of subject, including theology.

1957

Not Waving But Drowning is published.

1962

The first edition of her Selected Poems is published.

1966

The Frog Prince is published.

1968

Aunt Maggie dies. SS has been caring for her for several years as Maggie's health has declined.

1969

The Best Beast is published. SS spends quite a bit of time with her sister Molly following Maggie's death.

SS is awarded the Gold Medal for poetry by Queen Elizabeth II.

1970

SS becomes ill and notices that she is often unable to find words, a terrible thing to happen to a poet. She is eventually diagnosed with a brain tumor.

1971

March 7: SS dies. Her ashes are scattered on the Devon coast, far from Palmer's Green, but appropriate for her poem, "Not Waving But Drowning."

1972

The Scorpion and Other Poems is published posthumusly.

1975

Collected Poems is published.



God the Eater

There is a god in whom I do not believe
Yet to this god my love stretches,
This god whom I do not believe in is
My whole life, my life and I am his.

Everything that I have of pleasure and pain
(Of pain, of bitter pain and men's contempt)
I give this god for him to feed upon
As he is my whole life and I am his.

When I am dead I hope that he will eat
Everything I have been and have not been
And crunch and feed upon it and grow fat
Eating my life all up as it is his.


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