Learning to Swim
Writer and early-morning swimmer Ian Sansom asks why we learn to swim and reflects on the significance of swimming in literature. Is it a way of escaping into the imagination?
Taking his children to swimming lessons, Ian Sansom calculates that he has probably spent more time taking them to swimming lessons over the years than he has spent reading to them, playing with them or tending to their maths homework. What does it all mean? Of course it's useful as a means of avoiding drowning. In a very few cases it might result in a satisfying career path. It's an enjoyable leisure activity, and a way of keeping fit. But Ian suspects there's something more to it, and his reflections lead him to speculate on the wider meaning of swimming, on the many instances of significant swims and swimmers in film and literature, and on some of the figures who have swum through the pages of our literary canon. Taking his cue from WH Auden, Ian finds analogies between the act of swimming and the act of poetic organisation, and recognises in other writers and philosophers the impulse to swim as an escape into the imagination.