George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

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!

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

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 today.

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;

'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.

It's enjoyable discovering what inspires people to ideas and that's one reason I went into teaching; that and I like to learn new things, after all were only here for a short while and so much has happened.

Lord Byron composed this poem based on the myth about Hero and Leander. Leander, who lived on the Asiatic shore, loved Hero, a maiden from the other side. He would swim to her nightly across the straight until at last he drowned trying in a storm.

In 1810 on May 3rd, Byron swam the strait where the Black Sea empties into the Mediterranean, the Hellespont, that divides Asia from Europe. Together with a British Navy officer by the name of Lt. Ekenhead they arrived at Abydos on the Asiatic from Sestos in Europe.

He composed the poem just a week after his swimming feat. In his biography of Byron, Leslie Marchand illustrates Byron's sharp and very quick witted response:

This was a feat that gave Byron much satisfaction, and one in which he took unremitting pride. The day the deed was performed he wrote an enthusiastic letter . . . : "This morning I swam from Sestos to Abydos, the immediate distance is not above a mile but the current renders it hazardous, so much so, that I doubt whether Leander's conjugal powers must not have been exhausted in his passage to Paradise."

Not the first time a thinly veiled idea verging on indecency has been turned into good prose.


The Mediadrome - Words - Poems of the Week: Lord Byron: words_articles/poems_byron.htm

Public domain text exists at The Poets’ Corner:

Blair, Bob. Untitled:
accessed August 24, 2003.

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