By Stevie Smith 1902–1971 Stevie Smith
Why is the word pretty so underrated?
In November the leaf is pretty when it falls   
The stream grows deep in the woods after rain   
And in the pretty pool the pike stalks

He stalks his prey, and this is pretty too,   
The prey escapes with an underwater flash   
But not for long, the great fish has him now   
The pike is a fish who always has his prey

And this is pretty. The water rat is pretty
His paws are not webbed, he cannot shut his nostrils   
As the otter can and the beaver, he is torn between   
The land and water. Not ‘torn’, he does not mind.

The owl hunts in the evening and it is pretty
The lake water below him rustles with ice
There is frost coming from the ground, in the air mist   
All this is pretty, it could not be prettier.

Yes, it could always be prettier, the eye abashes   
It is becoming an eye that cannot see enough,   
Out of the wood the eye climbs. This is prettier   
A field in the evening, tilting up.

The field tilts to the sky. Though it is late   
The sky is lighter than the hill field
All this looks easy but really it is extraordinary   
Well, it is extraordinary to be so pretty.

And it is careless, and that is always pretty
This field, this owl, this pike, this pool are careless,   
As Nature is always careless and indifferent
Who sees, who steps, means nothing, and this is pretty.

So a person can come along like a thief—pretty!—
Stealing a look, pinching the sound and feel,   
Lick the icicle broken from the bank
And still say nothing at all, only cry pretty.

Cry pretty, pretty, pretty and you’ll be able   
Very soon not even to cry pretty
And so be delivered entirely from humanity   
This is prettiest of all, it is very pretty.

Stevie Smith, “Pretty” from New Selected Poems. Copyright © 1972 by Stevie Smith. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: The New Selected Poems of Stevie Smith (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1988)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Stevie Smith 1902–1971


Subjects Nature, Humor & Satire

 Stevie  Smith


Calling Stevie Smith's Not Waving but Drowning "the best collection of new poems to appear in 1957," Poetry contributor David Wright observed that "as one of the most original women poets now writing [Stevie Smith] seems to have missed most of the public accolades bestowed by critics and anthologists. One reason may be that not only does she belong to no 'school'—whether real or invented as they usually are—but her work is so . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Humor & Satire


Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.