When children graduate from high school and move away to college, it can be devastating for parents. The children leave to gain independence from their parents. They feel they are going on with a new adventure in their lives and gaining a new experience as an adult in the world. They are in a parent’s life for so many years that they cannot imagine life without them in the house. They become sad at the thought of not hearing the laughter or tears every day. Two poems that pick up on this experience are “On a Daughter’s Leaving Home” and “At the San Francisco Airport”.
These are not just poems about children leaving home but about the emotions all parents go through and the worry they take on when they do. In the poem, “On a daughter’s leaving home”, the daughter sees her life as a joy. She is excitingly, going off on her own to experience being independent. The daughter is on her bicycle “pumping, pumping. ” She goes on with her life “screaming with laughter. ” The daughter sees her life as something adventurous and fun. The mother is nervous to see her daughter go down a “curved path of the park”.
This “curved path” represents life with all its twists and turns. It is a symbol of life as unpredictable. It does not go in one straight line. The mother is afraid of the dangers that her daughter will encounter on her adventures in the world. The daughter’s “hair flapping” is a symbol of the daughter waving goodbye. It is like a handkerchief that one waves when he/she is seeing someone off on his/her travels. This makes the parent sad. She feels left behind. In the poem, the mother is worrying and panicking about the daughter getting hurt.
She keeps “waiting for a thud of crash ”. In her eyes, she sees her daughter as fragile. Her daughter is “smaller, more breakable”. In the poem, “At the San Francisco Airport”, the father is saying goodbye to his daughter. This letting go is exceedingly difficult for him. He is hurting, and it is extremely painful for him. He does not want to let her go, but he knows he must. The daughter also feels sad. She sees her father’s pain. She knows though that she must do what needs to be done to grow up. She has to learn to be on her own and out of her father’s shadow.
The poet uses much repetition in her writing style in “On a Daughter’s Leaving Home”. An indication can be found in the line, pumping, pumping /for your life”. Another contrast between both poems is that one is hopeful for his daughter’s future and is aware that he must let her go. The other poem has a mother who is afraid to let go. In both, there is vivid symbolism. The airport represents a farewell, as does the handkerchief. What unites both poems is the symbolism of a journey of daughters. In Pastan’s poem, the mother is afraid to let go.
She is worrying about her daughter and the dangers that come with growing up and being on her own. However in Winters’ poem the father is sad that his daughter is leaving but not afraid for her. He is hopeful for her and her future. He sees it as a bright light. Both poems show a parent’s love for his/her children. Both parents want the best for them as they leave home. Both children are happily taking the next steps into adulthood. They are leaving their parents’ shadows. While all parents worry about not being able to protect their children anymore, not all parents will react in the same way.
Some may look back on how they raised their child or the memories that were shared in their lifetime. Some though may look to the future instead. The parent understands that he/she has to let go, albeit hesitantly, and trust in the responsibility of his/her child. In the end, it comes down to a balance of both sides of the coin; look back at the cherished memories but look to the future and trust in each person to make the right decisions. It is not an easy road to take but something that must be done if children are to thrive and blossom vibrantly into adulthood.
Courtney from Study Moose
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