Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SWIMMERS, by LOUIS UNTERMEYER



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SWIMMERS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I took the crazy short-cut to the bay
Last Line: And death, a long and vivid holiday.
Alternate Author Name(s): Lewis, Michael
Subject(s): Death; Swimming & Swimmers; Dead, The; Swimmers


I TOOK the crazy short-cut to the bay;
Over a fence or two and through a hedge,
Jumping a private road, along the edge
Of backyards full of drying wash it lay.
I ran, electric with elation,
Sweating, impetuous and wild
For a swift plunge in the sea that smiled,
Quiet and luring, half a mile away.
This was the final thrill, the last sensation
That capped four hours of violence and laughter:
To have, with casual friends and casual jokes,
Hard sport, a cold swim and fresh linen after . . .
And now, the last set being played and over,
I hurried past the ruddy lakes of clover;
I swung my racket at astonished oaks,
My arm still tingling from aggressive strokes.
Tennis was over for the day --
I took the leaping short-cut to the bay.

Then the swift plunge into the cool, green dark --
The windy waters rushing past me, through me:
Filled with a sense of some heroic lark,
Exulting in a vigor clean and roomy.
Swiftly I rose to meet the feline sea
That sprang upon me with a hundred claws,
And grappled, pulled me down and played with me.

Then, tense and breathless in the tightening pause
When one wave grows into a toppling acre,
I dived headlong into the foremost breaker,
Pitting against a cold and turbulent strife
The feverish intensity of life.

Out of the foam I lurched and rode the wave,
Swimming, hand over hand, against the wind;
I felt the sea's vain pounding, and I grinned
Knowing I was its master, not its slave.
Oh, the proud total of those lusty hours --
The give and take of rough and vigorous tussles
With happy sinews and rejoicing muscles;
The knowledge of my own miraculous powers,
Feeling the force in one small body bent
To curb and tame this towering element.

Back on the curving beach I stood again,
Facing the bath-house, when a group of men,
Stumbling beneath some sort of weight, went by.
I could not see the hidden thing they carried;
I only heard: "He never gave a cry" --
"Who's going to tell her?" -- "Yes, and they just
married" --
"Such a good swimmer, too." . . . And then they passed;
Leaving the silence throbbing and aghast.

A moment there my buoyant heart hung slack,
And then the glad, barbaric blood came back
Singing a livelier tune; and in my pulse
Beat the great wave that surges and exults. . . .
Why I was there and whither I must go
I did not care. Enough for me to know
The same unresting struggle and the glowing
Beauty of spendthrift hours, bravely showing
Life, an adventure perilous and gay;
And Death, a long and vivid holiday.




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