“It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day…”Walking Away – Cecil Day-Lewis
Beyond English returns to lift the lid on Cecil Day-Lewis’ Walking Away poem, as part of AQA’s Love and Relationships module. This blog will explore:
- Walking Away context
- Walking Away structure
- Walking Away analysis
Ready? Let’s go…
Walking Away Context
Cecil Day-Lewis was born in 1904 and died in 1972. He was born in Ireland, but moved to England with his family when he was a young child. He was educated at Oxford and was appointed Professor of Poetry there in 1951. This was followed by his recognition as Poet Laureate in 1968 until his death in 1972. His second marriage was to an actress, Jill Balcon, and he had four children, including the Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Many of his poems are about his personal experiences and nature.
In his autobiographical poem ‘Walking Away’, Day-Lewis recalls the difficulty of experiencing his child becoming increasingly independent. He remembers a football match ‘eighteen years ago’ when he became aware of the beginning of the change in the dynamics of their relationship. Whereas before his child had been a ‘satellite’, he becomes aware that they are now ‘drifting away’. As the poem continues, he becomes more accepting of the situation and acknowledges that part of growing up is increased independence from parental support and control as well as the evidence of trust from the parent ‘in the letting go’. The poem explores the autobiographical situation of Day-Lewis as a parent experiencing this movement within his own relationship with his son.
The title ‘Waking Away’ has a number of different connotations. The first is the literal account of the poet watching his child physically moving in the opposite direction away from him.
It also refers to the inevitable change in relationship between a parent and child, and the deliberate movement of the child away from the parent in order to successfully move from childhood to adulthood.
The title might also explore the acceptance of the parent that they should become more trusting in leaving their child to make their own choices and develop maturity. Although the parent will not abandon their child, they do need to accept and understand the importance of allowing their child to stand on their own two feet.
- Cecil (what a name) was born in 1904 and died in 1972
- Cecil was born in Ireland but lived in England
- He was educated at Oxford and was appointed Professor of Poetry there in 1951
- Walking Away is an autobiographical poem, based on his feeling towards his child’s independence
Walking Away Structure
The poem is made up of four stanzas that are consistent in length. The poem moves chronologically through the difficulties that the poet faces in accepting the changes in their relationship. In the first stanza, he explores his feelings and the realisation of the changes when he first became aware of them. The second stanza recalls the experience of watching his child walk to school by himself and how this became a major change in his life as a parent. The third stanza becomes more accepting and explores the idea of his child in their determination to be more independent and to liberate themselves from their parent. The poem ends in the final stanza with the acceptance of Lewis that the change in their relationship is a natural, although difficult, part of life that must be faced as a parent.
- Walking Away is comprised of four stanzas, which are consistent in length
- The poem recounts events chronologically
- The first stanza accepts changes in the speaker’s relationship with his child
- The second stanza recalls previous experiences
- The third stanza explores the speaker’s child and his independence
- The final stanza ends with acceptance
Walking Away Analysis
The poem demonstrates that the difficulty of accepting changes in the relationship between parent and child is not one that improves with the passing of time. The poet recalls how ‘it is eighteen years ago, almost to the day’ showing that his son must be well in to adulthood but that the memory is still vivid in his mind. The poet remembers how it was ‘a sunny day with the leaves just turning’, using the image of nature and the season of autumn to show that this is a time of change and development for the poet and his child. He is watching his child play football and the ‘touch-lines new-ruled’ show that the writer feels that there is now a new set of rules that he must apply now that his relationship is changing with his son. The use of the hyphens to connect the words could be a visual symbol, optimistically to represent the parent/child bond that remains even when there is physical or time difference between them; however, it could also signify the distance that is building between the father and his son and the fact that it is then followed by a dash to add ‘since I watched you play’ could suggest that the gap is going to get bigger between them. It could also represent the time that has passed since the memory took place for the parent, showing that the process is one that takes years.
He uses the simile ‘like a satellite’ to describe his son, suggesting that he considers the relationship between them to be like the connection between Earth, larger and ultimately in control, and a satellite that is a short distance away, constantly in contact and still drawn to the larger object through gravity or bond. However, this satellite is ‘wrenched from its orbit’; the use of the vivid verb ‘wrenched’ shows the difficulty in drawing the father and son apart and, perhaps in the most part, the struggle for the parent to accept the separation.
The word ‘away’ is repeated again at the start of stanza 2 in the line ‘I can see / you walking away from me towards the school’, sharing a literal memory of his son walking back to school on his own. This sharing of the difficulty of this separation is made all the more intimate for the reader through the use of the personal pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’. The poet is speaking directly to his child and this makes the reader feel the closeness of the relationship. The poet acknowledges that this separation is something that is a natural part of the world when he compares his son to a ‘half-fledged thing set free’. This suggests that his son is like a bird that is only partly matured and ready to leave the nest. The fact that he follows this line with the phrase ‘into the wilderness’ shows that the poet is concerned about his son moving into a different era of his life and therefore away from his father. It seems that his son does share some of his worries or difficulties in accepting the situation because he has ‘the gait of one who finds no path where the path should be’, suggesting that he is unsure or unaware of the changes and what to expect. There is a lack of confidence in his walk.
This is further emphasised through the phrase ‘that hesitant figure, eddying away’ suggesting the uncertainty of the boy as well as the suggestion of the lack of control that the father feels. Again, the word ‘away’ is repeated and this is a key idea in the poem, that to the father, his son is constantly retreating physically and also symbolically from his care and instruction. The use of the word ‘eddying’ suggests something that is moving in a different direction to a main current, such as a whirlpool, so there is also the indication that the father feels that his son moves away but returns; he is still needed at times, but is also aware of the movement and change of the relationship with his son and his needs.
His son is compared to a ‘winged seed loosened from its parent stem’, showing that the separation of parent from child is a natural part of life. However, this change is something that the poet finds difficult to accept, shown by the phrase ‘I never quite grasp to convey / About nature’s give-and-take’, showing his struggle in being accustomed to these changes. The verb ‘grasp’ suggests the physical as well symbolic connection he has with his son and suggests his desperation to remain the same despite the inevitable changes their relationship faces. The pain of this situation is shown in the metaphor ‘the small, the scorching / Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay’. The alliterative phrase ‘the small’ highlights the typicality of the situation alongside ‘the scorching’, which shows the discomfort that it causes, showing how unbearable the father finds it and perhaps that he is branded and scarred by this ‘ordeal’. The poet uses the symbol of firing clay to show that despite being ‘irresolute’ and unsure of the changes, it is something that is going to become permanent and will have a lasting impact on his life.
In the final stanza, the poet admits that he has ‘had worse partings’, but that it is this parting that ‘gnaws’ at his mind, showing its persistent distress that it causes him. He has had to accept the situation, but it is still something that bothers him. Despite this, he understands that ‘selfhood begins with a walking away / And love is proved in the letting go’, showing that he recognises that part of his son’s development and growth as a person requires independence to make his own decisions and to build his own life, and that his role in this as a father is to show his love and care for his son through the trust that is ‘proved’ through letting the natural development of their relationship take place. The ending of the poem is conclusive and shows that the poet has become accustomed to the situation.
- The poem demonstrates the difficulty of accepting changes in the relationship between parent and child
- The poet recalls how ‘it is eighteen years ago, almost to the day’ showing that his son must be well in to adulthood but that the memory is still vivid in his mind
- He uses the simile ‘like a satellite’ to describe his son, suggesting that he considers the relationship between them to be like the connection between Earth, larger and ultimately in control, and a satellite that is a short distance away, constantly in contact and still drawn to the larger object through gravity or bond
- The word ‘away’ is repeated again at the start of stanza 2 in the line ‘I can see / you walking away from me towards the school’, sharing a literal memory of his son walking back to school on his own
- His son is compared to a ‘winged seed loosened from its parent stem’, showing that the separation of parent from child is a natural part of life
- The phrase ‘that hesitant figure, eddying away’ suggesting the uncertainty of the boy as well as the suggestion of the lack of control that the father feels
- In the final stanza, the poet admits that he has ‘had worse partings’, but that it is this parting that ‘gnaws’ at his mind, showing its persistent distress that it causes him
- The ending of the poem is conclusive and shows that the poet has become accustomed to the situation
Walking Away Poem Revision from Beyond
If you’re in need of more Walking Away revision, this lesson pack from Beyond might help!
“How selfhood begins with a walking away, And love is proved in the letting go.”Walking Away – Cecil Day-Lewis
Explore even more set texts from the AQA GCSE English syllabus here.