Booth’s speaker is a father who is not only giving his daughter her first swim lesson, he is also preparing her for independence. He says to her, “Lie back daughter, let your head / be tipped back in the cup of my hand. / Gently, and I will hold you.” The father uses the word “gently” in line 3 to describe how he holds his daughter as she learns to float and again in line 14 to describe how she should lie when “fear cramps her heart.” “Gently” suggests delicacy and mildness in the way the father holds his daughter in the water.
He is carefully watching over her so nothing will harm her and she will feel safe. Likewise, “gently” also suggests staying calm in the midst of turmoil. As the poem progresses, the father reminds his daughter that one day she will be on her own. When he isn’t there to support her and she’s scared, she will need to be able to support herself.
His advice to her is to “lie gently” and keep her emotions and fears under control. If she can be gentle and calm in her thoughts and actions, she will be able to overcome any adversity that life sends her way. Gentleness and calmness of mind will allow her to remain focused and make rational decisions when situations are difficult.
Booth’s selection of “gently” emphasizes that a person will remember the important lessons of a parent and rely on them for guidance throughout life.