Sea swimming in spring (instant poem)

people sea swimming in spring sunshine
People sea swimming in spring sunshine

Sea swimming in spring (an instant poem)

Perfection is a word 
both dangerous and deceptive 
when applied as an absolute
brutal and strong.

But the word in my mouth this morning 
is delicate and elusive
more tentative than conclusive.

When I leave home for the gym
I’m often thinking, no, 
this is no day for a swim.
But then I see the sea ahead
and all my wimpiness has fled. It’s dead.

A blue sea with sunshine sparkling
a grey sea soaking up a cloud reflection
a black sea gritty with icy flecks
a brown sea growling with breakers
a green sea with puzzling projections

They’re all perfect. In their way.
So is the cold, the wet silk
the medium like thickened air
that my arms push through 
and yet are one with, part of.

So is the damp wind perfect
and the open space —
a space to be with others
a space to be alone and feel
the sunshine or the drizzle 
smoothing your face.

I love the passing conversations
with the dabblers and the paddlers.
I love the mighty distance swimmers.
One of them blind, all of them shining
with that triumphant swimmers’ joy.

I love the seabirds pottering and fishing
I love the children on the beach
I love the heavenly extension 
when I shut my eyes and whisper
I am the sea and the sea is me.

and when I rise like Venus
from the froth of foam
every time the pinch 
of a new surprise.

I love sea swimming in spring
love it in winter
love it in autumn
I even kind of love it 
in the summer.

—	Rachel McAlpine

Do try cold water swimming if it appeals

Or in autumn. (Build up to winter swimming.) It’s very popular nowadays, for multiple reasons. But be warned: once you start, you may be unable to break this peculiar new habit.

People who live in Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington — or almost any city in Aotearoa New Zealand — are very, very spoiled when it comes to sea swimming. I swim at Freyberg Beach, right in the city harbour, and our water is usually clean. If in doubt, we can check the state of the water on the LAWA website: it’s checked twice daily.

Ready to start cold water swimming? Cold Water Swimming for Beginners is a wonderfully helpful resource. It’s intended for swimmers in the UK, but the principles are the same anywhere. Join the ever-expanding club!

Warning: an instant poem is far from perfect

Some might call this poem doggerel. I wouldn’t blame them. But this is a blog, and sometimes I like just to type in a hurry and share before editing. It’s fun. I don’t care if you think I’m a bad poet. I’m a good poet who is dangerously free of shame in that respect. Now I’ve got a rough draft, which is much better than no draft. Is that how you approach writing? As a swimmer I’m similar. (Oh wow, what a fabulous rhyme!) I just get in the sea and do it, and admire the fabulous ocean swimmers. I’ll never be them and I give them my heartfelt admiration.

Cold water swimming and anxiety

8 benefits of cold water swimming

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25 thoughts on “Sea swimming in spring (instant poem)

  1. judibwriting says:

    Love this poem- refreshing and invigorating and as inclusive and multi faceted as the sea. We hold the sea beneath the sheath of our skin- the sea-birth mother of us all.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, it’s a super -mystical or mythical relationship 🙂

  2. Suzanne says:

    I enjoyed your poem Rachel and especially “all my wimpiness has fled”, classic. You’re right cold water swimming is supposedly good for our bodies. I am still gripping tightly a small part of my wimpiness and will wait until closer to summer before tipping my toe into the sea. Though I have been known to put the shower onto cold and spray my sore leg and back muscles. Yes, I know I am brave.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Right! The cold shower is available to most of us, and yes, you are brave. Tiny habits have a disproportionate power to change our lives. My friend says she can stay under a cold shower while singing a verse of Happy Birthday… at top speed.

      1. Suzanne says:

        Funny, about the song. All it takes is one tiny moment and put it on repeat. So easy if you want a change. I wish I could entice my obese niece to enjoy some sport. Unfortunately, she’s only here from Australia a short while.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        People lose confidence to do what can be regarded as a little adventure. And people like what they like 🙂

  3. This is a fine poem of advocacy. I like the idea of instant writing for a blog. I do the same

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Advocacy? Then what a fool I am to do this for a free product, swimming! Your instant blog posts bring cheer to so many.

  4. I love this Rachel, and “As a swimmer I’m similar” is sublime. I’ll steal it, if I may?

    As a swimmer I’m similar
    but really that’s a lie
    I’ve never been cold swimming
    perhaps I ought to try!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Once again you’ve made me giggle. And I do love to giggle.

  5. “Instant” poems (especially this one of yours) have more energy and implication than those revised and picked over IMHO.
    I almost missed the fact that you do this twice a week? Wow! Just the fact that beaches are available for you to ‘take the plunge’ easily is amazing also.
    (snaps fingers) – That’s it! Instant poems are invigorating much like sea swimming in spring dips in the ocean!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You have just demonstrated one of the poet’s superpowers : spotting patterns, and hence similes and metaphors and wonderful ideas. Go for it!

  6. Sylvie Ge says:

    It is a great addiction of mine too. Thank you for this🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks, Sylvie. You and I have plenty of company now!

  7. Oh, I too am a big fan of the instant poem and cold water swimming. They work well together. That first rush of blood when you hit the cold (especially sea) water and the glorious uplift and inspiration it provides. You, of course, continue to be an inspiration in and out of the sea, lovely Rachel. xx

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      We could both start swimming across Wellington Harbour and meet for an instant chat in the middle! I might need to train first x

  8. I am not a swimmer, I am a watcher on the sand! I love this poem, especially its unexpected rhymes. You asked, so I say yes, I have many many drafts, and I still share them when they are raw

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      As a watcher on the sand you’re very important to us swimmers. When you see me drowning you will run and tell the boss of the beach cafe : he is an excellent swimmer. Or maybe Watching on the sand is your raw draft of lifesaving?

      1. I will write that draft! I’ve got a comfy chair and an umbrella

        Every time we speak, I am inspired to write more! Can you adopt me? Smiling, thanks

  9. cedar51 says:

    Yes, I’ve the sea here, but it’s not easily doable or for that matter “free of unmentionable matter” … I wish I was near an outdoor pool.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s not for everyone. Stay well.

  10. Fascinating, Rachel. I live near Puget Sound in WA State. During our heat wave early autumn in 2021, I went for six swims. Puget Sound is roughly 48-50 degrees at this time of year. I felt calmer after the swims. And, paradoxically, invigorated. Better than using chlorinated health club swimming pool.

    I have yet to venture into Puget Sound during winter, but we have some in Seattle who do. I could see where this could be an antidote to anxiety.

    I love your poem. And am grateful to hear you drop perfectionism in favor of the joy of writing and getting it out there!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Wow, what a gift! That’s about the same as our harbour temperature in winter. It has just shifted up a degree this week, I noticed. Isn’t it wonderful that the same thing can calm and excite you? I have friends who have been ice swimming this winter. They didn’t stay in the water for long 🙂 But your body certainly grows more tolerant of cold. I never get that big shock now, do you?

  11. Anonymous says:

    He kupu pai a Rachel.Hei te takutai o Freyberg, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, kaikauhoe ia ra ka taea e au te hono atu ki o korero.

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