Max Gutmann: Matthew Webb

(19th century British daredevil)

The seething rapids underneath Niagara
churned brutally, a span no man could swim.
When Matthew Webb dove in and hastened toward them,
no soul was startled that they savaged him.
He'd been the one to beat the English Channel.
First time, the winds near killed the man. His way
of dealing with defeat? Webb, after resting,
jumped in again and made it to Calais.

His early fame he'd won, this medalled hero,
for diving in to save a mate gone down.
Did Webb, failing to find that sinking sailor,
feel undeserving of his wide renown?
It seems he lived his life from that day forward
as though his chief ambition were to drown.

Captain Webb on old match label