Thursday, November 19, 2009

Poetry in motion

One of the things I love about invigilating English exams is the opportunity to read poetry. Of course, as the same poems tend to be used over and over, I don't always get to read a new poem, but that's okay because I like reading my old favourites.

Today, one of the poems (which, typically, I now cannot remember title or poet's name for!) was about a parent letting go of his son as the son was growing up. It describes the scene as he drops his child at school, and the child walking away.

It's been a long time since I've had an emotional reaction to a poem, but OMW did I have one today! My throat closed up, my breathing sped up, my heart started racing, and I could feel myself beginning to cry. I've read this poem several times before (I would say hundreds, but I'm not sure it's that many!), without the reaction I had today.

Reading it, I was struck afresh by the reality that the point of parenting is to make one's children independent; it is to help them grow apart from you. When I thought about letting go of Janel, my heart just about stopped.

I know that the letting go is a gradual process, and that one has time to adjust to it. I know that the letting go is vital. I know that every mother goes through this, and that millions of others have survived the process - including my own mother.

Never the less, I still wondered how my own mother survives it. If she loves me the way I love Janel, it must be a daily agony to her that she is so far away (only a few kms, I know - but she's behind the Boerewors curtain, so it feels like another world) and that we are not in daily contact.
It made me want to pick up my cell and phone her immediately.

Eventually, I had to deliberately think of other things and force my mind away from thinking about this poem, or I would have sobbed my heart out - right there in front of the entire grade 10 group!

I adore my daughter - much as she drives me to distraction. I can't bear contemplating a world in which she is not there, in which she doesn't live in my house, in which she doesn't need me - it's almost too much for my heart to bear. I wonder if every mother feels like this, or if my emotions are deeper for having already lost Zoe?

All I can say is that I do not look forward to the time when she no longer wants to be with me, or hug me, or play with me. I do not look forward to letting go. I know I must. I know it is the healthiest thing for all of us. I know that it probably won't hurt as much as I think it will, because it will happen gradually. But none of that changes how I feel at the moment.

Mwah, Munchkin! Mommy loves you THIS much *stretching out arms as wide as they can go* and THIS much *hugging imaginary child to heart*. A big, big, big, big, BIG, HUGE SUPERHERO bit.
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Edited: The poem is called 'Walking Away" by Cecil Day Lewis.

Walking Away (for Sean)

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day-

A sunny day with the leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled - since I watched you play
Your first game of fotball, 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 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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