The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 3/Written after swimming from Sestos to Abydos

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The Works of Lord Byron by George Gordon Byron
Written after swimming from Sestos to Abydos

WRITTEN AFTER SWIMMING FROM SESTOS TO ABYDOS.[1]

1.

If, in the month of dark December,
 Leander, who was nightly wont
(What maid will not the tale remember?)
 To cross thy stream, broad Hellespont!


2.

If, when the wintry tempest roared,
 He sped to Hero, nothing loth,
And thus of old thy current poured,
 Fair Venus! how I pity both!


3.

For me, degenerate modern wretch,
 Though in the genial month of May,
My dripping limbs I faintly stretch,
 And think I've done a feat to-day.


4.

But since he crossed the rapid tide,
 According to the doubtful story,
To woo,—and—Lord knows what beside,
 And swam for Love, as I for Glory;


5.

'Twere hard to say who fared the best:
 Sad mortals! thus the Gods still plague you!
He lost his labour, I my jest:
 For he was drowned, and I've the ague.[2]

May 9, 1810.
[First published, Childe Harold, 1812(4to).]

  1. On the 3rd of May, 1810, while the Salsette (Captain Bathurst) was lying in the Dardanelles, Lieutenant Ekenhead, of that frigate, and the writer of these rhymes, swam from the European shore to the Asiatic—by the by, from Abydos to Sestos would have been more correct. The whole distance, from the place whence we started to our landing on the other side, including the length we were carried by the current, was computed by those on board the frigate at upwards of four English miles, though the actual breadth is barely one. The rapidity of the current is such that no boat can row directly across, and it may, in some measure, be estimated from the circumstance of the whole distance being accomplished by one of the parties in an hour and five, and by the other in an hour and ten minutes. The water was extremely cold, from the melting of the mountain snows. About three weeks before, in April, we had made an attempt; but having ridden all the way from the Troad the same morning, and the water being of an icy chillness, we found it necessary to postpone the completion till the frigate anchored below the castles, when we swam the straits as just stated, entering a considerable way above the European, and landing below the Asiatic, fort. [Le] Chevalier says that a young Jew swam the same distance for his mistress; and Olivier mentions its having been done by a Neapolitan; but our consul, Tarragona, remembered neither of these circumstances, and tried to dissuade us from the attempt. A number of the Salsette's crew were known to have accomplished a greater distance; and the only thing that surprised me was that, as doubts had been entertained of the truth of Leander's story, no traveller had ever endeavoured to ascertain its practicability. [See letter to Drury, dated May 3; to his mother, May 24, 1810, etc. (Letters, 1898, i. 262, 275). Compare the well-known lines in Don Juan, Canto II. stanza cv.—

    "A better swimmer you could scarce see ever,
     He could perhaps have passed the Hellespont,
    As once (a feat on which ourselves we prided)
    Leander, Mr. Ekenhead, and I did."

    Compare, too, Childe Harold, Canto IV. stanza clxxxiv. line 3, and the Bride of Abydos, Canto II. stanza i.: Poetical Works, 1899, ii. 461, note 2, et post, p. 178.]

  2. [Hobhouse, who records the first attempt to cross the Hellespont, on April 16, and the successful achievement of the feat, May 3, 1810, adds the following note: "In my journal, in my friend's handwriting: 'The whole distance E. and myself swam was more than four miles—the current very strong and cold—some large fish near us when half across—we were not fatigued, but a little chilled—did it with little difficulty.—May, 6, 1810. Byron.'"—Travels in Albania, ii. 195.]