When Cecil Day-Lewis wrote “Walking Away”, he was reflecting, some 18 years after the event, on sending his seven year old son off to boarding school. He said the memory of it “Gnaws at my mind still”.
“… selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.”
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. Day-Lewis had words for it in the mid-1900s:
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