|'The Swimming Hole' by Thomas Eakins (1884-85)|
Poet Walt Whitman loved swimming with other young men, nude in the fashion of the 19th century, their bodies electric.
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sun-burnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels, when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers, the breath, and breathing it in and out…
“The young men ran dancing and laughing along the sand, bathed in the surf, fished, dug clams, speared messes of fat, sweet-meated eel,” wrote biographer Justin Kaplan. “He loved swimming, of a passive sort — ‘I was a first rate aquatic loafer,’ he recalled. ‘I possessed almost unlimited capacity for floating on my back.’ Cradled, rocked and drowsing, his body rolling ‘silently to and fro in the heave of the water,’ he lay suspended between the depths and the light, between the unconscious and the world of necessity.”