Written After Swimming from Sestos to Abydos (May 9, 1810)
(Note from Byron) On the 3d 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 when 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 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 chilliness, 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. Chevalier says that a young Jew swam
the same distance for his mistress; and Oliver 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 endeavored to ascertain its practicability
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 roar’d,
He sped to Hero, nothing loth,
And thus of old thy current pour’d,
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 to-day.
But since he cross’d 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 best:
Sad mortals!thus the Gods still plague you!
He lost his labour, I my jest:
For he was drown’d. and I’ve the ague.