Michael Laskey has spent all his life being associated with poetry in some way or the other. He founded the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 1989 and since then has been connected with it in some capacity. He has taught English in secondary schools in Spain and England for several years. This poem is about his son leaving home for school when just five years old. It talks about the poet’s feelings at his young son’s departure.
The poet’s son has left home and gone to school, probably a boarding school. The poet misses the child and the life they lived together. Jack used to rig up a tent using a blanket which used to be thrown over chairs and fixed with clothes-pegs or tucked into drawers which were then closed shut. Sitting under this make-believe tent they used to have their lazy chat sessions. The poet used to always keep one ear open for sounds of the boy but now the house is devoid of a child’s sounds. Only the washing machine chugs and whirs inside it. The poet then remembers the boy’s protracted goodbye kiss when he threw his arms around his neck. When he reaches the school, he walks down the long corridor, growing smaller as he walked away. Everything was strange for him, even the way his name was called by Miss Cracknell, the teacher.
The central idea of the poem is a mother’s sorrow when her son leaves home at the age of five to go to school. She senses his presence in the house when he is not there; she misses his childish games. The child too was unwilling to leave his mother; he clings to her while saying goodbye. She has to prise his baby arms away from her neck. When he reaches the school, the strange assembly hall dwarfs the child. Everything is strange there.
There is nothing in the poem to say whether the words are spoken by the poet or an imaginary mother. Since it is the mother who spends more time with a young child, most commentators assume it is spoken by a mother. The tone of the poem is melancholic. The mother or the poet misses Jack and the childish games they used to play. Jack clung to his mum while saying goodbye; this his mother remembers with heartbreak. The huge school structure looms over the child making him appear insignificant. Everything is strange in the school. Even the way the teacher, Miss Cracknell utters his name is strange. There is formal rhyme scheme used. The language used is not poetic but everyday common language.
There is a strain of gentle melancholy running right through the poem. The subject matter of the poem is not an elevated one; it above a child going to school for the first time. She misses Jack sorely, misses the games they played and the chatter.