Swim for Your Life: 9 Quotes About the Primal Allure of Water

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For most of the year, rivers, lakes, and oceans serve either a strictly practical purpose, or a metaphorical one — we’d rather die than jump in. Once summer comes, however, you can’t keep us out of the water, and in these moments we rediscover the primal allure of it.

The following authors are here to remind us to heed this symbolic call and make the metaphors literal once again. Don’t get so swept up in the travails of mankind that you forget to to scramble toward the shores. You’ll wish you had once the mercury drops, leaving most of us stranded on dry land for another few seasons.

Kate Chopin, The Awakening, 1899
“She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.”

Lynn Sherr, Swim: Why We Love the Water, 2012
“Even the suggestion of swimming can be stirring. Watch a swimmer pass a building with a pool: the whiff of chlorine produces a wistful smile. Sit with swimmers when a TV commercial shows someone in the water: they actually stop and watch.”

Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies, 2012
“Being pool-trained, I’m used to seeing four sides and a bottom. When that clarity is removed I get nervous. I imagine things. Sharks, the slippery sides of large fish, shaggy pieces of sunken frigates, dark corroded iron, currents. I can swim along the shore, my usual stroke rolled and tipped by the waves, the ribbed sandy bottom wiggling beneath me, but eventually I get spooked by the open-ended horizon, the cloudy blue thought of that sheer drop – the continental shelf.”

Pablo Neruda, The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, 2004
“Only with kisses and red poppies can I love you,
with rain-soaked wreaths,
contemplating ashen horses and yellow dogs.
Only with waves at my back can I love you,
between dull explosions of brimstone and reflective waters,
swimming against cemeteries that circulate in certain rivers,
drowned pasture flooding the sad, chalky tombstones,
swimming across submerged hearts
and faded lists of unburied children.”

Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, 1906
“Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man — who has no gills.”

Jeanette Winterson, Gut Symmetries, 1997
“Words kept salted when they cannot be found fresh. Words kept fresh when they cannot be found clean. The words go deeper, far out of reach of vessels, blood vessels bursting, that thick humming in the head. To find the words, just out of reach, beyond my hand, the coral of it, the pearl of it, fish.”

Elizabeth I, Letters, 16th century
“The use of sea and air is common to all; neither can a title to the ocean belong to any people or private persons, forasmuch as neither nature nor public use and custom permit any possession thereof.”

Anne Spollen, Shape of Water, 2008
“I believed I could identify the scent of the sky as I stood there, a blue menthol fragrance similar to the scent of seawater that sprayed into my face when I first dove into the ocean. That initial scent was much more subtle than the ocean’s heavy, fishy aroma; it was a whiff of salt and mint, just as I approached the water on a dive, that warned me that a more powerful scent would soon enter my nose. It was the scent I dreamed in. And it was the scent of that spring sky as I stood in my yard.”

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale, 1851
“[T]hen all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”