Walking Away was written by Cecil Day-Lewis and published in 1962. Day-Lewis was an English-Irish poet who lived from 1904-1972.
The poem is dedicated to his oldest child, Sean, who was in his early thirties when the poem was published.
The narrator remembers an occasion from eighteen years ago. He watched his son playing in his first football match. After the game, the son went back to school with his teammates. The speaker felt that this was a moment when he realised that his son was getting older and gaining independence away from the family. He says that he still thinks about this parting eighteen years later.
The poem’s key message:
Day-Lewis reflects on how all parents must let go of their children at a certain point in their lives.
A metaphor is used to show the son gaining independence. As he walks away with his teammates, the speaker describes this moment as:
“…like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away”
In this image, the orbit represents the family, while the son is the satellite that is “Wrenched” from it. This gives an image of a painful but permanent separation.
Incidentally, when the poem was published, it was only five years after the USSR launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into space. The launching of Sputnik was a major global event that generated a lot of interest and was widely covered in the media. Therefore, it would have been a very contemporary (modern) image for its time.
Nature imagery is also used to describe the son’s growing independence. He is described as:
“…a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness”
A fledged bird is one whose wings are capable of flight. His son is described as “half-fledged”, showing that he cannot yet survive on his own, but he is growing in maturity. The fact that he is “set free / Into a wilderness” shows that the father worries that he is experiencing the world without his family before he is ready to do so.
A semantic field of pain shows how difficult the speaker found this parting. Words such as “wrenched”, “scorching”, and “Gnaws” demonstrate this.
The poem’s last two lines move away from the speaker’s personal experience and speak more generally about the nature of children growing into adulthood:
“…selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.”
|Loss||The speaker shows a sense of sadness about his son growing older and becoming independent from him. The memory still “Gnaws” at him, showing how painful the parting was. He has had “worse partings” (possibly with deaths or romantic breakups) that were more painful at the time. However, the sense of loss that he feels about his son growing apart from him has continued to hurt him more than those other partings. This reflects the deep sense of love and connection that a parent feels towards their child.|
|Independence||As he watches the football match, the father realises for the first time that his son is becoming more independent. This happens when the son goes, “Behind a scatter of boys…walking away from me towards the school”. Seeing his son going off with his friends makes him realise that the boy’s social circle is taking on a more important role to him than his immediate family.|
The father also realises how his son has physically grown. Even though he is “hesitant” and uncertain about how he walks, he has become “half-fledged”, indicating that he now resembles someone halfway between childhood and adulthood.
|Memory||This is a significant memory to him, emphasised by his recollection of the exact date that it happened (“eighteen years ago, almost to the day”). It is a painful memory for him, but one that he cannot stop thinking about because he sees this as a moment in his life when his role as a parent changed. It was only in “letting go” of his son, rather than trying to resist his growing independence, that they could move on with their lives.|
|Quote||Why is it important?|
|“like a satellite wrenched from its orbit”||This image shows how the son separates from his family as he becomes more independent. The word “wrenched” indicates how painful this is for the father.|
|“a half-fledged thing set free into the wilderness”||The father worries about his son going out into the world, feeling that he is only “half-fledged” and unable to survive on his own.|
|“love is proved in the letting go”||The narrator generalises this experience to a universal parental challenge: giving their children more space and independence as they grow older.|