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Things Worth Remembering: A Poem for Parents

As C. Day Lewis wrote for his own son, ‘love is proved in the letting go.’

Welcome back to Douglas Murray’s Sunday column, Things Worth Remembering, where he presents passages from great poets he has committed to memory—and explains why you should, too. To listen to Douglas read this week’s work, from C. Day Lewis’ “Walking Away,” click below.

Sometimes the advice that a poem gives can be applied to several different aspects of life. Sometimes, poetry being a medium that is meant to be suggestive, the theme of the poem moves as we look at it, or depending on who looks at it. One person might pick it up and take one thing away from it; another will take something else entirely. It isn’t always the case. But it certainly is with one of my favorite poems, a poem that is suitable for Mother’s Day because it addresses one of the deepest and most important loves of all: parental love.

Like Stephen Spender, C. Day Lewis was another poet of the Auden generation. His Complete Poems, lovingly introduced by his wife, Jill Balcon, contain lots of good works and a few great ones. A few years before his death in 1972, Day Lewis was made Poet Laureate of the UK—which is generally a mixed blessing of an honor, tending to mean that the poet in question has their best work behind them and now must try to summon the muses to celebrate the wedding of someone sixth in line to the throne.

There is much to say about Day Lewis, and I hope it isn’t too reductive to mention that he was, among much else, the father of actor Daniel Day Lewis. This matters only because the best poem Day Lewis ever wrote was to his eldest son, Sean. “Walking Away” is principally a poem about parenting and something that every parent must experience at some point—which is the necessity of letting their child go out into the world. I will never forget what one friend said to me years ago when her eldest son had just started going to school: “It’s hell. Every day it’s like watching one of my legs go across a busy road and not being able to do anything about it.”

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