Linda Pastan’s poem “To a Daughter Leaving Home” tells the story of when a little girl first learned how to ride her bike while her parent watched over her. The poem is written from the parent’s perspective so it can, therefore, show the parent’s thoughts and inner conflict with the daughter learning how to ride her bike. The parent describes himself nervously watching the daughter confidently round a windy path. The farther away the daughter got, the more fragile she became in the parent’s eyes. The daughter, joyfully enjoying her new skill rode away as her fearful parent ran after her.
The parent realized that the daughter is gaining independence as she can now do things on her own. She does not need the parent’s support to ride the bike anymore and soon enough she will not need their support for almost everything. Linda Pastan was raised in New York City but lived in Potomac, Maryland for most of her life. She decided to take a break writing poetry and place her focus on her family. It is clear that Linda Pastan had much love for her family and cherished the time she had with her children (Poetry Foundation).
Just as in “To a Daughter Leaving Home”, Pastan often includes themes about family and aging in her poetry. The overall theme of the poem is about growing up and gaining independence. The poem is written from a parent’s perspective whose daughter is ready to leave home. The parent is reminiscing on one of the first times the daughter gained a piece of independent and was fully capable of riding a bike on her own. Another theme present in the poem is letting go. This appears in the poem because although the parent is not used to it, they need to be able to let their daughter be on her own and not watch over her every move.
This poem is meant to express to the readers how special and limited a parent’s time is with their daughter or son. In order to reveal these themes to the reader Linda Pastan uses style, specific word choice, and imagery in her poem. Pastan’s word choice in the poem is very important because the specific words are used to set a tone for the poem. Words such as “surprise”, “breakable”, and “laughter” are used in separate parts of the poem where separate tones are displayed. Pastan uses a few different tones in the poem “To a Daughter Leaving Home”. She begins the poem with a very happy and joyful tone.
The poem reads: as you wobbled away on two round wheels my own mouth rounding In surprise when you pulled ahead down the curved path of the park. (1014) As the daughter confidently rides her bike the parent is in pure shock at the daughter’s capabilities. The tone is very happy here because it is just a parent and daughter bonding and spending time together while learning how to ride a bike. Then the tone, however, transitions into a nervous and anxious tone. The poem continues: I kept waiting for the thud of your crash as I sprinted to catch up, while you grew maller, more breakable with distance. (1015)
Here it is clear to the reader that as the farther away the daughter gets, the more fragile and delicate the parent views her. This is where Pastan begins to build the theme of letting go. Although the daughter may seem extremely fragile in the parent’s eyes, she still needs to learn how to be on her own and gain independence. The poem then transitions into a bitter-sweet tone as the daughter gets farther away: pumping, pumping for your life, screaming with laughter, the hair flapping behind you like a handkerchief waving goodbye. (1015)
Here it is evident that the daughter is full of joy and does not believe that she needs her parent’s support anymore. The parent, on the other hand, still believes that the daughter is not fully capable of being on her own and is sad to see her go. Tone is very important and the word choice used to display tone can reveal the theme of the poem. This reveals Pastan claim that daughters no matter how old will always be fragile and delicate in their parents eyes. She writes a very emotional poem claiming that parents of daughters will not be ready for them to leave home even when the daughters are.
Linda Pastan’s poem does not rhyme or have a specific meter. This free verse style gives the reader more freedom to read the poem at any pace. The lines of the poem are very short and often end partway through a sentence. The short lines embody the theme that the time parents’ have with their daughters is short and should be cherished because it will be over before they know it. The theme of “To a Daughter Leaving Home” is mostly revealed through imagery. The entire story line about the parent teaching the daughter to ride the bike symbolizes the parent raising the daughter up until the day she leaves home.
The poem reads: A bicycle, loping along beside you as you wobbled away. (1014) This part of the poem is symbolizing the parent guiding the daughter though the first few years as she needed guidance and could not do things on her own. The parent describes the concrete path she is riding her bike down as windy and dangerous. The path is meant to symbolize her life and the curves symbolize the fun and dangerous adventures that life holds. The farther away the daughter gets from the parent on the path symbolizes the daughter maturing and growing apart from the parent.
She doesn’t need their support as much as she is fully capable of riding the bicycle on her own. Once the daughter gets too far away, the parent begins to sprint after the daughter because they believe she is too fragile. Pastan uses a simile to describe the daughter’s hair in wind as if it were waving like a handkerchief. Symbolizing the daughter waving goodbye to her parent as she leaves home. Through these images, the reader can infer that the theme of the poem is about growing and gaining independence. All in all, “To a Daughter Leaving Home” uses style, word choice, and imagery to convey the theme of independence.
The poem is meant to convey the message that the day daughters are ready to leave home and become independent their parent’s, however, will not be. Parents will always view daughters as delicate and open to harm as long as they are away from them. Along with the theme of growing up and independence comes the theme of letting go. Parents with daughters ready to leave home need to be able to let them go out into the real world and not watch over their every move worried they will put themselves in harm’s way. Pastan creates a very emotional poem that many can or someday will be able to relate to.