This satiric poem was inspired by Byron’s own swimming feat, which was itself an attempt to recreate Leander’s swim across the Hellespont to visit his lover, Hero. Byron attempted the swim twice; on 3 May 1810, he succeeded, swimming with a companion named Ekenhead. And they technically swam from Abydos (the European coast of the Hellespont) to Sestos (the Asian coast).
Byron was an accomplished – and proud – swimmer. The club foot which prevented him from succeeding at most sports was no handicap in the water. This particular feat was also mentioned in Canto II of Don Juan, and in an entertaining letter to his friend, Henry Drury. Byron told Drury that the swim took an hour and ten minutes.
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 the 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.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Written After Swimming from Sestos to Abydos" https://englishhistory.net/byron/poems/written-after-swimming-from-sestos-to-abydos/, April 19, 2015