This moving poem by Philip Booth is narrated by a father giving his daughter her first swimming lesson. As he teaches her the art of buoyancy, he incants a blessing for her and for survival – that she will know how to take respite from the ‘long thrash’ to her island by lying back and letting the sea hold her.
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
Philip Booth (1925-2007)