“A parent’s love is shown through letting go”

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.

Walking Away

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


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