“The Swimming Lesson”
by Mary Oliver
Feeling the icy kick, the endless waves
Reaching around my life, I moved my arms
And coughed, and in the end saw land.
Somebody, I suppose,
Remembering the medieval maxim,
Had tossed me in,
Had wanted me to learn to swim,
Not knowing that none of us, who ever came back
From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace, –
How to survive in any place.
This poem is especially poignant, seeing as my father, when I was five, threw me into a swimming pool with apparently the honest belief that it would teach me how to swim. I learned terror. I learned the feel of water in my lungs. I learned the relief of rescue, from a kindly woman who lifted me as high as she could reach.
I did not learn to swim that day.