“Those Winter Sundays” By Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden’s poem Those Winter Sundays is a very touching poem that many can find very relatable. This poem seems to be written as a tribute to his father, in which the speaker seems to recall certain memories from his childhood which remind him of all the sacrifices his father had made for him.One important thing to note is that the poem is written in past tense which exemplifies a regretful realization of blind ingratitude that seems to have dawned on the speaker. However, as he recalls these memories, his outlook on his father is belatedly warm and appreciative.This poem is very powerful with this double perspective – one of a young boy who took for granted all the self-sacrificing duties his  hard-working and undemonstrative father did for him and one of an older man, perhaps a father himself now, who now realizes that sacrifices his father made for him, out of love and compassion. Mingled with respectful memories of a father figure is the message of a certain ingratitude that commonly accompanies youth.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with his cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking,
When the rooms were warm, he’d call
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

In line one, one three letter word, too, is full of meaning. When the author says that his father gets up on Sundays too, he implies that this man really never caught a break. Sundays are typically a day of rest and worship and yet, his father still got up early to  set about the tasks for the day and warm the house, making the rest of his family less uncomfortable than it had been for himself. This is the first example we say of the father putting his loved ones before himself.

In line two, the poet says that his father would put his clothes on in the blueblack cold. This allows the reader to feel a sense of pain for the father as blue and black are colors that symbolize bruises.However, in my opinion, this feeling of coldness that the poet seems to portray goes beyond the temperature in the room. I believe that this chill or coldness represents the ungrateful and oblivious attitude of the family members living in  the household who do not appreciate and realize all that their father is doing for them. As the father uses his “cracked hands” to make “banked fires blaze” the poet suggests that the father is trying to ameliorate, making a cold, gloomy house one that is warm and loving again even though “No one ever thanked him.”

In the second stanza, the words “cold, splintering, breaking” describes how the house is reacting to the fire set by the father. These words reinforce the image of the “blueblack cold” mentioned earlier as these play on words help poetry a climatic and compelling situation

As the poem continues, we see that the father calls out to the child to wake. But now not only is the child ungrateful for his father who only woke him up when the house warm, but he is also scared?  The  child feared the “chronic angers” of the house which imply the unhappiness and discomfort of the domestic situation in the house, and an emotional heat or chill that brings uneasiness. These “chronic angers” allow the reader to explore a new emotion in the poem. The word chronic means continuing and persistent which suggest that anger has been an on-going problem in the household. The poet even uses “that house” rather than saying my house/home. This possibly suggests that the child at the time may have chosen to dissociate himself from the house that may have held wrath and resentment, causing him endless pain. What this “fear” ultimately suggests is that there may be violence or abuse that may occur within this household. This vibe is also given by the author’s previous word choices such as “blueback” symbolizing bruising, and other violent words including cracked, blaze, splintering, breaking, and chronic.

The third stanza shows the child showing no emotion towards his father as he spoke “indifferently towards him” even though his father “had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.” The poet obviously now knows that his father loved him but at the time he may have been blinded by the violence and abuse in the household to ever realize his father’s unrequited love for him.

The last few lines of the poem are what truly show the author’s regret for not realizing all his father had done for him. The rhetorical question of “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” suggests that the poet did not truly realize the love his father had showed him. These last few lines give off an “if only” tone, which allows the reader to assume that the author may have lost his father, or he himself is a father now who may be feeling unappreciated. “What did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices” conveys mature realization of duties one performs willingly for their loved ones. The word “offices” sees to be used as an expression of functions dutifully performed without expectation of appreciation or thanks, like an adult in the workplace. As for “love’s austere,” this phrase describes the speaker’s mature realization that his father did not perform his loving duties with expectation of receiving gratitude.

This poem is a description of a father’s selfless love for his son who is young, oblivious, and apparently ungrateful to his way of showing love. This poem also depicts different ways that love can be expressed. The father in this poem may not have physically told his son he loved him but he showed him through his actions.  It is only after the son grows older that he is able to look back and realize how unappreciative he was of his father’s love. One amazing message that this poem sends it that love can be expressed in various ways and emphasizes the importance of showing appreciation for love received before its too late.FE4553FA-EB76-4324-904D-1EBCA65C906C

Robert Hayden reads Those Winter Sundays:

 

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One thought on ““Those Winter Sundays” By Robert Hayden

  1. Sherein, A sensitive and insightful reading of this poem. You do a very nice job balancing the two contradictory emotions Hayden explores–his belated recognition/appreciation for his father’s love and his acknowledgement of an atmosphere of abuse which may have made it hard, as a child, to also see the love and care. Contradiction is often difficult for children to understand, so they tend to see things starkly as either/or, rather than the both/and of a more mature perspective. This is one of the things that happens in this poem by the final couplet, that doubling of What did I know almost enacting the contradiction that couldn’t be assimilated, like the idea of love being austere. I love that you see the father’s love as unrequited, accounting for Hayden’s use of the sonnet here for this poem about his father’s love and his love for his father.

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