The end of the academic year approaches. Undergraduates in their final year are awaiting their results and preparing to plunge into the real world. My stepson is one of them. He releases snippets of information about his future plans in a casual but guarded way. Travel to far-flung places has been mentioned: the funding for this remains vague. I enjoy my conversations with the confident young man he has been come and wonder – conforming to stereotype – where the little boy has gone. I can remember – just – having similar conversations with my parents. A poem which encapsulates the parental perspective in this eternal process is Walking Away by C Day Lewis, written for his son, Sean.
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.
C Day Lewis
I would enjoy hearing from you if you have any comments about the poem.
I am on holiday until 20 June, so the next blog post will be in two weeks’ time.