Review: Why We Swim

Why We Swim
Why We Swim by Bon­nie Tsui
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

At the time of Lord Byron’s Helle­spont swim, he had pub­lished some poet­ry but had not yet estab­lished him­self as one of the great Roman­tic poets. His suc­cess­ful cross­ing, though, got his muse talk­ing, and he pro­duced “Writ­ten after Swim­ming from Ses­tos to Aby­dos,” a satir­ic poem in homage to the swim and to the Greek myth of Hero and Lean­der. Lean­der, a young man from Aby­dos, falls in love with Hero, a priest­ess of Aphrodite who lives in a tow­er in Ses­tos. Every night, Lean­der swims the four miles of the Helle­spont to vis­it Hero, guid­ed by her lamp. One night the lamp blows out, and he drowns, over­come by the waves and cur­rents. She throws her­self from her tow­er to join him in death.

Byron, how­ev­er, escaped with a bout of fever and chills, but for all his jaun­ty tone, he felt that swim­ming coaxed him out of melan­choly, opened up his cre­ative stores, and gave him access to his best self. In truth, the Helle­spont became a touch­stone for him and the stre­nous swim was what loosed his imag­i­na­tion. In time, “Byron­ic” would be a label for our most pas­sion­ate seek­ers, swim­mers, and artists. Byron came to rep­re­sent a “con­cen­trat­ed mind,” as well as “high spir­its, wit, day­light good sense, and a pas­sion for truth—in short a unique dis­charge of intel­lec­tu­al vital­i­ty.” — Bon­nie Tsui

This well-trav­elled sto­ry men­tions the myr­i­ad moti­va­tions peo­ple have to jump in the water. Togeth­er these tales make a good case for swim­ming in the open water and why, see quote above, it makes for a more reward­ing dive. Rang­ing from the Ice­landic hero, Guðlau­gur Friðþórs­son to the Greek Hero, and from the Japan­ese Samu­rais to the Oceans Sev­en Swim­mers. Each bring their own inspir­ing aspect to the table and the total sum makes swim­ming out­doors an admirable and worth­while endeav­our. The key is to not be afraid of the water’s depths, its dark­ness and its poten­tial to draw you down. Ulti­mate­ly, you’ll arise from the water anew; that’s what John would do with you.

I give “Why We Swim” four miles stars.

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