Written commentary: ‘At the San Francisco Airport’ by Yvor Winters
Written commentary: ‘At the San Francisco Airport’ by Yvor Winters
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The poem ‘At the San Francisco Airport’ by Yvor Winters is a heartwrenching poem written by a father to his daughter, upon sending her off at the airport terminal. The poem takes on a dramatic tone as it explores a father’s opinions and responses toward his daughter’s departure.In the first stanza, the speaker begins with “This is the terminal”, and goes on describing the features of the terminal.
He highlights the “light” which “Gives perfect vision, false and hard”, which would allow him to experience clearly the unmistakeable and harsh reality right before him, with his daughter about to leave him. He later takes on an overtly positive tone as he notes “Great planes are waiting in the yard” – which draws attention to his belief that his daughter has a “Great” future before her, and that a bright future is “waiting” for her. This suggests that he is aware that his daughter’s departure would be in her interests. In addition, he acknowledges that the planes “are already in the night”, suggesting that she will soon, too, enter into the night – which connotes darkness. The adoption of binary opposites – the darkness of the night and the lightness of the terminal emphasises the gravity of the impending separation between father and daughter. However, the reality of the situation is still not felt by the speaker.Soon, the speaker realises he is extremely reluctant to let his beloved daughter leave on the plane – made evident through the use of hyperbolic language in the second stanza. At the start of the second stanza, his daughter is still “beside” him.
His paternal instincts are still greatly felt as he describes his daughter as “small, / Contained and fragile”, suggesting that he still sees his daughter as a young child who is unable to protect herself, and that he feels a paternal urge to protect this child. Readers start to get the impression that he is still unwilling to let her fly off alone.Furthermore, he claims that his daughter has yet to realise what is imporant – his daughter is described as “intent / On things that I but half recall” – demonstrating his low regard for his daughter’s wishes – which is followed by the remark that “Yet going wither you are bent”. The use of high-flown and exaggerated language emphatically points to the speaker’s disapproval at his daughter’s desire to leave, as he believes that his daughter is interested in what is unimportant and has no good reason to leave. By leaving, the speaker believes she will be neglecting and forgetting more crucial matters – such as their relationship – as evident from the firm statement “I am the past, and that is all.” This statement, tinged with a sad uneasiness that comes with losing one’s beloved daughter, marks the father’s resentment toward’s his daughter’s departure and, signals the end of a chapter of the relationship between father and daughter. As the speaker is aware that his daughter has moved on, he begins to convince himself that her departure is a necessary evil, in order to come to terms with it.To convince himself that he is dealing well with his daughter’s departure, the speaker consoles himself in stanza three by proclaiming that similar strong traits are shared by father and daughter.
He claims that they have overlapping features, being “in part one”. Even though she has inherited his “frightened brain” and “nervous will”, she has also inherited positive traits such as the “knowledge of what must be done”, the “passion to acquire skill”, and the courage to “face that which you dare not shun”. Such consolation perhaps helps the speaker to deal with the uncertainty of his daughter’s fate overseas – he believes that she can make it far since she has inherited his strong traits and determination, such that he would not have to worry about her life overseas. However, despite such attempts to convince himself about her ability to survive independently overseas, this is undermined by the forth stanza.In the forth stanza, readers are alerted to the fact that the very reality of his daughter’s departure remains an earth-shattering change for the speaker. He uses gloomy imagery in describing his overpowering emotions in response to the realisation that his daughter was leaving soon – he claims that he experiences the “rain of matter upon sense”. He further admits that as the truth of the matter hits him, it “Destroys me momentarily” – which suggests that he is devastated by his daughter’s impending departure, to the point where he has lost his rationalising abilities.He is, however, aware that he cannot extricate himself from an emotional response – recognising that “There comes what will come”, which precedes his reaction which comes at the “expense” of “what one thought”.
He then builds anticipation by pointing to readers that his reaction to his daughter’s departure also comes at the expense of “something more” – following that, he claims that “One’s being and intelligence” is completely undercut in dealing with his daughter’s departure. The breaking of the ABABA rhyme scheme with this line draws attention to the massive extent of his emotional response, and highlights his struggle in dealing with his daughter’s departure.In the last stanza, he repeats the opening of the poem by noting “This is the terminal” – however, much progress is made from the first stanza, as he continues differently, linking the terminal to “the break”. This is the point at which he will finally separate with his daughter. He has moved on from the overall positivity at the start, as well as the subsequent reluctance and emotional turmoil. He is grounded in the physical reality of the terminal, like at the beginning, acknowledging that “Beyond this point, on lines of air” his daughter will have to “take the way” that she “must take” – it seems that he has finally come to reconcile his difficulties coping with her departure and having her good interests at heart. That is, he realises that she has to leave to move on to a promising future away from San Francisco, and that this separation is inevitable for his daughter’s success. The contrasting imagery between light and dark is again employed in the last stanza, where there is an actual divide between the father remaining at the terminal “in light”, and the daughter in the darkness of the night “on lines of air”.
By the penultimate line of the poem, the reader imagines that the speaker – who stays passive upon his daughter’s departure, choosing to “remain in light and stare” – although still slightly distraught, has overcome the acute distress felt earlier when he lost his “being and intelligence”. However, this is undermined by the dramatic closing of the poem. The last line draws the reader’s attention to the severity of the separation – the speaker is not only aware that he will be separated from his daughter, evident through the recognition that he will remain “in light” while his daughter is away “in the night”, but he is also aware that he can only remain “in light, and nothing else”. This suggests that their separation may perhaps be permanent, and that he has become aware of that. His sad fate as a father whose daughter has left him is amplified by the claim that he will remain “awake” – which points to a devoted willingness to wait for her until she returns, as well as the possibility of him spending sleepless nights missing her, upon her departure.In conclusion, the poem convincingly conveys the speaker’s attitude towards his daughter’s departure at various points in time while at the terminal. At the beginning, he notes the presence of the planes on which his daughter will leave him, hinting to ensuing separation. This progresses until the end, where he indeed separates from his daughter as she flies off – he is saddened by the fact that he is no longer needed in her life, and begins to long for her return.