A poem for the beginning of a new academic year (Post 42)

Walking Away – C. Day Lewis

Here, schools have either started their new year – in Scotland – or are about to do so – in other parts of the UK. University semesters are about to get underway.

For many families, there will be something new about this academic year – perhaps a child starting school, or a young person changing school, or a soon-to-be-young-adult beginning a university career.

It is a challenging time – both for the central players, and for their parents. It is exciting, of course, and it’s important to focus on that, and to encourage and support the person taking this first, new step. But it’s also a bit scary – it’s natural to be a bit scared when undertaking something new. And for parents, it can be a sad and difficult time, too, as they acknowledge that their offspring are growing up.

Cecil Day Lewis reflects on two partings, I think, although he describes only one. He doesn’t say what it is that prompts him to reflect on his memory of a leave-taking almost 18 years prior to the time of writing, but I think it is perhaps an older child’s leaving home permanently, or moving away – or perhaps even becoming a young father himself.

There is some wonderful, evocative imagery, for example the little boy walking back to school after his first match, a little uncertain about what he should do: “the gait of one/ Who finds no path where the path should be.”

There is a deep truth and a painful understanding, too, about the nature of parenthood, and the love that parents have for their children – whatever age they may be.

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.

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