Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Monday, July 20, 2009

Good Writing On Rowing 1

There is a lot of good writing about rowing. And here I mean short, powerful, witty, and intelligent phrases, poems, and deep thoughts that tell a reader about our sport, how it is and how we would like it to be seen and remembered.

Here is a list of 10 “sayings”. I have not listed them in a special order, although I believe No. 1 should be regarded as the top one. I will be back with more of them in a near future.

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
Ratty in Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

He keeps his sturdy legs applied
Just where he has been taught to,
And always moves his happy slide
Precisely as he ought to.
He owns a wealth of symmetry
Which nothing can diminish,
And strong men shout for joy to see
His wonder working finish.
From “The Perfect Oar” by R. C. Lehmann

Dead-heat to Oxford by five feet.
‘Honest’ John Phelps, the 1877 finishing judge at the Boat Race

It’s a great art, is rowing.
It’s the finest art there is.
It’s a symphony of motion.
And when you’re rowing well
Why it’s nearing perfection –
And when you reach perfection
You’re touching the Divine.
It touches the you of you’s
Which is your soul.
George Pocock

The three ‘R’s of rowing are: Rowing, Rowing, and Rowing.
Stan Pocock

There is no disgrace being beaten when you are trying to win.
Jack Beresford, Jr.,

From stretcher to oar with drive and draw,
He speeds the boat along.
All whalebone and steel and a willowy feel –
That is the oarsman’s song.
From “The Oarsman’s Song” by Steve Fairbairn

If anybody sees me near a boat again, they have my permission to shoot me.
[Later Sir] Steve Redgrave after winning his fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal. However, he would become Olympic Champion again, in Sydney in 2000.

Nothing as beautiful as rowing, the records of how we have used it to test ourselves and each other, and the reasons it should be preserved for future generations, should be so neglected, so forgotten, or so unsung.
Thomas E. Weil in his essay “The dangerously neglected legacy of rowing”

Jolly boating weather,
And a hay harvest breeze,
Blade on the feather,
Shade off the trees,
Swing, swing together
With your bodies between your knees.
"Eton Boating Song" by William Cory

There are many different versions of Cory’s ‘Jolly boating weather’. When Hugh Laurie was asked to sing it on television, he could not help referring to it as a ‘homoerotic anthem’ – look this up on: > "hugh laurie homoerotic anthem"


  1. Thank you for all of your posts... I suggest the reading of a poem by J. Maycock entitled "The 'Blue' Fever", first published in the Sportsman, 9 March 1882 and in The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (Richard Burnell, Oxford University Press).

  2. Hélène - I immediately looked it up in Burnell's book. Thank you for pointing out this "forgotten" poem. I will post a stanza from it in my next list.