When Cecil Day-Lewis wrote “Walking Away”, he was reflecting on sending his son off to boarding school – some 18 years after the event. He said the memory of it “Gnaws at my mind still”. But then his kid was only seven … We hear this poem referenced when people talk of the difficulty of parting with their children, maybe for the truth of the last two lines as much as anything:
“… selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.”
(There was a reason he was the go-to poet of the mid-1900s.)
Whether you whooped for joy the day your kid (finally) left, or found the experience profoundly difficult, saying goodbye to a child plucks those heart strings like nothing else. Even if it is 18 years later.
It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away
Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.
That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.
I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.
Cecil Day-Lewis, 1956