Linda Pastan’s 1988 poem, “To a Daughter Leaving Home”, concerns the idea of children growing up and leaving, whether it be for college or simply riding a bike for the first time. The speaker of the poem starts out with a nostalgic feel, addressing the child and reminiscing on a time the child was eight and being taught how to ride a bike. The speaker follows their daughter until it is hard to keep up and they can do nothing but stand and watch as the child rides away. The title of the poem draws a more in depth look at this seemingly simply affair that almost every parent and child has by connecting it to the idea of a child leaving home for a short period of time or permanently. The poem, “To a Daughter Leaving Home”, speaks on a theme of children eventually being old enough to leave home, or their parents, and how hard it is to embrace.
The title of the poem, along with the beginning, sets the scene with a nostalgic feeling of the speaker’s child growing up. The first line, “When I taught you/at eight to ride/a bicycle” sets the poem apart from the title immediately (736). The title encapsulates a sense of a child leaving for college or to live on their own while the first few lines brings the reader back to an earlier time. The first line also creates a strong relationship between the speaker and the daughter, claiming the speaker as the teacher and the daughter as someone who is being taught. The book “Poetry for Students” states that “The phrasing in this line, isolating the two persons’ pronouns and the mother’s role as a teacher, implies that the relation between the mother and daughter is a central concern of the poem”. The first line makes it clear that the reader is primarily addressing the daughter, their relationship proving to be the main source of the poem itself. The title of the poem creates the idea that it is about a child, who is older, leaving permanently, while the first few lines set a drastically different scene in which the child is only eight, creating nostalgia.
The remainder of the poem focuses on the idea of not wanting to let the child go, but eventually doing so. Line 11 shows the speaker worrying that their daughter may crash and trying to run along with her: “I kept waiting/for the thud/of your crash as I/ sprinted to catch up” (737). The speaker is holding onto their child, hoping to protect them at any moment, but struggling to keep up with the rapid pace at which the daughter is moving, and moving away. The literary overview talks about this by focusing on the speaker’s state compared the daughters: “Line 11 returns focus to the narrator, who follows the description of the girl’s physical activity by detailing her own emotional state, one of anxiety with regard to how successful the daughter will prove in pedaling off on her own”. The speaker is waiting for the daughter to fall off the bike and get hurt, for the daughter to need her. The daughter, on the other hand, is speeding up and moving quickly, unaware of her mother trailing behind. The speaker goes on to say that her daughter grows “smaller, more breakable” as she continues to ride her bike alone through the park. The speaker is watching her daughter move further away, getting smaller in her vision and seemingly more fragile. At the end, the speaker compares her daughter’s hair to a “handkerchief waving goodbye” signaling that the daughter has rode her bike far away from the mother and has created a physical distance between the two (737). The poem encapsulates the struggle the speaker, and most parents, have when it comes to seeing their children grow up and become independent.
Linda Pastan’s “To a Daughter Leaving Home” tells a nostalgic tale of a child’s first time riding a bike and how it affected the parent. The speaker relives this moment in a gloomy way, pinpointing it as one of the times her daughter had left home. The poem speaks on a theme of children growing older and growing apart from their parents, and how the parents view this change. Although the first time riding a bike is exciting for a child, to a parent, it could seem as a first step in letting the child grow up and, in turn, grow independent. The speaker remembers this time as a moment in which she lost her daughter, even if she was only going down the street.
“Overview: ‘To a Daughter Leaving Home’.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 46. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Paston, Linda. “To a Daughter Leaving Home.” The Norton Production to Literature. 11th ed. Ed. Kelly J. Mays. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2013. 736-737. Print.