In this simple poem, the speaker isn't very specific. It could be either the mother or father of the daughter in the poem, who is the subject. The tone is very nostalgic with the speaker, rememberin, "When I taught you at eight to ride a bicycle." This memory creates the setting for the poem but in an unclear way. It is obviously a memory from the parent of the little girl but, the poem only clearly states the situation of learning to ride a bike. Where this takes place is vague, "down the curved path of the park" is all the reader knows.
The parent follows the little girl as she takes off on her bike. Suprisingly the girl doesn't fall at all, "I kept waiting for the thud of your crash as I sprinted to catch up." The image of the parent running behind their child after teaching them how to ride a bike independently, metaphorically shows the child leaving their parent behind. The title To a Daughter Leaving Home, makes the reader think the poem would be when an adult daughter leaves home but, the author here takes an old memory of a simple day of learning to ride a bike as a metaphor. Learning to ride a bike is similar to learning to live on your own. Your parent teaches you all they know (like being taught to ride a bike) and then they set you free, to experience and learn on your own.
At the end the emotions of the parent realizing their child is growing up changes the tone to a sad but happy one. "you grow smaller, more breakable with distance", the parent sees their daughter growing up and naturally worries about their safety when they set off alone. The last line is bittersweet because the image and setting of the little girl in the distance,"hair flapping behind you like a hankerchief waving goodbye", shows what the parent sees of their young daughter, enjoying riding her new bike and unknowingly growing up and leaving home.
Audio reading of poem:
Linda Pastan on fiction & poetry:
sestina: six words
8 years ago