The Swimming Lesson

The Swimming Lesson

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 that 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.
– Mary Oliver

3 Responses to “The Swimming Lesson”

  1. Princess C says:


  2. Jelte says:

    [Received via e-mail:]
    I came to the last line of your poem for a second time and felt tears raining down the planes of my face,
    recalling the tragic sight of those who have come back to land.
    the shivering body, averted eyes, clenched fists.
    and that singular question sinking into me,
    if any warmth would ever soften those hands, recover that ability to gaze at someone squarely in the eyes.
    Feeling in myself
    a willingness to spend a lifetime redeeming that fall,
    a powerful need to give birth to hope,
    that Adulthood, the belief that one has set sail from ignorance and innocence, is a myth I do not have the appetite for today.

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