The American poet Linda Pastan published ‘To a Daughter Leaving Home’ in her 1998 collection Carnival Evening. The form of the poem is crucial here- the one long sentence, made up of several clauses, represents the different stages of the bicycle lesson and hence the growing up process. And, as with many memories of family, time always seems to have gone so fast when you look back at certain specific childhood activities. The poem describes the memory of a mother teaching her eight-year-old daughter how to ride a bicycle. The speaker recalls what it was like to awkwardly walk next to the daughter as you wobbled away on two round wheels, as she tried to find her balance on two wheels. The bicycle lesson becomes the focal point as a metaphor for life – life is a bicycle – with all the potential dangers that involve. The title suggests that her daughter is now old enough to leave home, yet the poem concentrates on the past when she was only a child. The poem may refer to an emotional phase as the mother is having to let go of her daughter as she is starting a new life by moving out. Her bicycle ride represents the difficult and stressful journey that the girl has embarked on during her life. Although the girl is grown up and is starting her own life, her mother in the meantime is recalling everything about the girl’s life at this point.
“To a Daughter Leaving Home” spotlights how hard it can be for parents to step back and let their children experience the world on their own. Growing up is a dangerous business but note how the poet sets the confident youngster screaming with laughter against the mother who thinks the daughter more breakable with distance. This age-old tension between the protective parent who fears for the worst and the bubbling, energetic, independent youngster who couldn’t care less surfaces. It’s dealt with in a nostalgic manner, the tone one of mild sadness as the daughter rides away, hair flapping like a handkerchief, suggestive of a tearful goodbye. The whole poem represents that journey from childhood innocence to adult independence as seen through the eyes of a rather anxious mother. The bicycle lessons have been taught, the daughter now has to face the road alone, equipped hopefully with the necessary skills for success. When the time comes for a daughter to leave the family home it is always a wrench for the mother but sooner or later the child has to be set free, let go for them to become what they have to become – independent adults. This poem is a neat way of metaphorically telling that story, the cycle of life ongoing.
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