Reading “To a Daughter Leaving Home” and “Death of a Young Son by Drowning”: Poetry Comparisons through Imagery and Symbolism

June 16, 2019 by Essay Writer

Linda Pastan’s To a Daughter Leaving home and Margaret Atwood’s Death of a Young Son by Drowning both apply imagery and symbolism to exemplify the difficulties of being a parent. These poems describe the moments and instances that no parent wants to consider. They confirm that parenting can be the hardest job in the world. Both of the poems use similar styles of imagery and symbolism; they focus on two very different painful situations some parents have to experience.

To a Daughter Leaving home is describing an unfortunate situation where a mother comes to the realization that her daughter no longer needs her to guide her in life. It is never mentioned where the daughter is headed, instead, the poem focuses on the mom’s feelings and how hard it is to see her daughter go. She reminisces of the first taste of independence her daughter got years ago when she first learned how to ride a bike without her mother’s help. She describes her fear of when her daughter first rode away on the bike while she was left behind as her daughter vanished out of sight. She mentions that her daughter grew “more breakable with distance” (16-17). This phrase showcases her feelings of fear and anxiety which this situation has evoked. She has to watch her daughter slip out of her grasp and accept the fact that she is leaving. She feels nervous for her daughter stepping out into the world alone because she is easily breakable and vulnerable without her mom at her side. Death of a Young Son by Drowning portrays a far worse parenting nightmare that no parent wants to imagine. It is focused on the emptiness felt after the loss of a child. The mother watched her hopes and dreams slip away as “his feet slid on the bank, the currents took him” (7-8). It is obvious that her she was very fond of her son and looking forward to this voyage with him and losing him meant “The dreamed sails collapsed, ragged” (26-27). This phrase is used to describe how she feels after experiencing the loss of her son. Atwood utilized imagery to further explain the mother’s personal experience the day her son passed away. She had to witness her son’s passing without being able to do anything to save him because everything happened so fast. She describes seeing him when “he was hung in the river like a heart. They retrieved the swamped body” (17-18). Her in depth knowledge of the incident portrays a very dark side of her son’s unforeseen death.

To a Daughter Leaving Home and Death of a Young Son by Drowning both rely on symbolism in a prominent manner. In To a Daughter Leaving Home, the author uses the memory of the first time her daughter rode a bike alone to symbolize her and her daughter having to go their separate ways. In the last line of the poem makes she makes an analogy saying “the hair flapping behind you like a handkerchief waving goodbye” (21-24). She makes the connection of her daughter currently leaving to the first time she left on her bike. In this moment, it hit her that her daughter was leaving and she would have to be strong and let her go. This analogy was an important symbol mentioned in the poem because it gives the reader understanding of why she was thinking about her daughter’s first bike ride and how that moment compares to the current situation. Margaret Atwood used an abundance of symbolism in her poem Death of a Young Son by Drowning as well. She is trying to showcase the idea of the river symbolizing life itself saying “navigated with success the dangerous river of his own birth” (1-2). Through this phrase she conveys that her son was born because of how he successfully navigated the river of life. Water is a substance that helps life thrive but as Atwood makes it known, it also has the ability to destroy life. More specifically so, the river symbolizes how peaceful and unbothered life can be one moment and the next it can become miserable and burdened with anguish and hopelessness. In line 16 she mentions that the “air locked” and she began to comprehend that the dreams and hopes she had moments ago are now out of reach. She continues with saying how the world must go on even though as a mother who just lost a child, her world halted. The last two stanzas the poem is concluded straightaway with direct statements of how hopeless the mother’s life has been left. This is done to symbolize how horrifying it must be to lose a son at such a young age. The mother mentions that “My foot hit the rock. The dreamed sails collapsed, ragged” (26-27). This is symbolizing the moment she comes to the realization that her son is gone for good. This voyage was supposed to be a trip a trip of discoveries and new beginnings but it was left with her world falling apart after her son’s passing. The last two lines she says she “planted him in this country like a flag” (28-29). The flag symbolizes the impression her son left on the world no matter how young he passed. Although he is gone physically, there are pieces of him spiritually that he left behind during the time he was alive. Both of the authors use symbolism within their poems to display two different mothers dealing with similar yet very different situations and the agonizing pain that they have to deal with as parents.

Another stylistic element the authors use is imagery to demonstrate the mothers and how they are emotionally burdened by the situations being dealt with. In To a Daughter Leaving Home, Pastan uses language throughout the poem to add imagery to her writing. The mother is experiencing one of the hardest things she has go through as a parent and wants the audience to recognize her pain by creating a visual of a child learning to ride a bike for the first time and falling of that bike. She says “you grew, smaller, more breakable with distance” (15-17), giving the audience the sense of sadness and hopelessness that the mother is feeling knowing her daughter is leaving. The visual image is created to get the reader at the same emotional level the mother is which is the feeling of despair and that thirst for the past many people also have. In Death of a Young Son by Drowning, Atwood uses imagery to showcase the mother’s personal experience with the drowning of her son and her emotions along with it. In the third stanza of the poem, she gets very descriptive with how her son ended up dead saying “the currents took him; he swirled with ice and trees in the swollen water” (8-9). The example of imagery she utilized here has a very chilling tone. It is done so that the audience could see through the mother’s eyes and experience what occurred on that day. She is building up this experience in such great detail to showcase how much it has affected her and how it left her life damaged and hopeless.

These two poems are very different contextually describing two very different hardships a parent eventually has to experience. They both make use of imagery and symbolism to evoke specific emotions and get their message across. Death of a young Son by Drowning is a poem that begins very hopeful an exciting for a new journey but turns into a devastating life altering experience for the mother that loses her son. The symbols and images throughout the poem give a firsthand view of what the mother had to see with her own two eyes. On the other hand, To a Daughter Leaving Home is not as devastating but still evokes feelings of sadness and hopelessness because a mother has to deal with the fact that her daughter has grown up and does not need her help anymore. Altogether, Margaret Atwood’s Death of a Young Son by Drowning and Linda Pastan’s To a Daughter Leaving Home utilize imagery and symbolism to address very different hardships of parenting that no parent can ever prepare for.

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