Robert Hayden’s poem, “Those Winter Sundays” was published in 1962. This lyrical poem is a free verse, written in first person narrative that consists of three stanzas, written in a sonnet form that has fourteen lines and it has no particular pattern or rhyme. In this poem, Hayden is reminiscing memories from his childhood, specifically his father. Hayden’s father is a hard working man who provides for his family and wakes up early on Sundays to keep his home warm for his family. As the poem progresses, the speaker realizes that his father has done so much for his family and his father actions were never appreciated. The speaker’s voice and imagery in the poem allow the readers to comprehend his emotions and to focus on the importance of a father’s unconditional love.
The first stanza, consisting of five lines, introduces the setting of the poem and gives a brief description of his father. The first line, “Sundays too my father got up early,” (1) indicates that the speaker’s father wakes up early not only on Sundays but also on the other six days of the week. The word “too” refers that he would rise early every day. The fact that his father will rise early on Sunday’s shows that he loves his family because Sundays are usually when people go to church or it is a day of rest. A tone of loneliness and sadness is introduced when the speaker says “and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,” (2) illustrating a lack of togetherness throughout the family. This quote illustrates the lack of togetherness in the family because the term “blueblack ” is used to describe the home as being cold and distant. The speaker provides detailed imagery of his father that allows the readers to feel his pain when he says, “then with cracked hands that ached / from labor in the weekday weather made / banked fires blaze” (3-5). This quote illustrates that his father works hard all week, including in his home. He uses those hands that have worked all week and adds wood to the fire to keep the house warm. Hayden also uses the alliteration of the consonant sound K, cracked and ached, to illustrate the cracking of his father’s hand. The final line in this stanza is short but powerful, “No one ever thanked him” (5). This quote shows that the speaker has come to a realization of the selfless acts his father did in order to keep the house warm. This line also contributes to the theme of unconditional love because the father was not seeking a “Thank you” from his family. He simply did his task as a father to keep them warm and safe during the winter. This stanza illustrates that his father had many rough days but continues to sacrifice his only day of rest to keep the house warm and to show his love for his son and family.
The second stanza focuses on the actions the speaker did while his father warms up the house. The stanza begins with the speaker saying, “I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking” (6). This quote illustrates that he is waking up to a freezing cold house but will only get up, “When the rooms were warm, he’d call, / and slowly I would rise and dress” (7-8). The father shows love to his son because he will only wake him up until the house is warm and cozy. The fact that he rises slowly may mean that the speaker is fearing something or is not interested in being bothered. The tone of the speaker changes when he says, “fearing the chronic angers of that house” (9) shows that his house is not always been a safe and loving environment. The word choice “chronic” also shows that anger has been present for a while and that it is not going away. Hayden’s illustration of the house may show a difficult place to live in due to all the anger filled in it or it may also mean his father may be a challenging man to love.
In the final stanza, the speaker has come to a realization of his father’s unconditional love. He begins the final stanza by saying, “Speaking indifferently to him” (10). This quote shows that he had no respect and was not thankful for the small acts of selflessness his father did throughout his childhood. Through the memories of his father, the speaker realizes that his father’s actions were thoughtful and appreciative. When the speaker says, “who had driven out the cold” (11) can be interpreted both figurative and literal. It can be figurative because cold may represent the distant relationship between father and son. It is also literal because his father got rid of the cold air by keeping the house warm. He is also appreciative of his father acts of kindness when he says, “and polished my good shoes as well” (12). His good shoes may be the ones that he wears during Sunday church service. The final lines of Hayden’s poem are, “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?” (13-14). These final lines of the poem demonstrate a shift of tone by the speaker. This rhetorical question illustrates the speaker’s feeling of ignorance, sadness and regret for not realizing the sacrifice his father did for him as a child. The repetition of “What did I know,” shows that he did not understand the acts of love his father showed him as a child. Line fourteen illustrates how hard and lonely it can be to be a parent and the sacrifices they do for their children.
In Robert Hayden’s poem, “Those Winter Sundays,” the speaker is an adult man reflecting on his past when he was a child and his remorse toward his father. Hayden’s poem is a way of thanking his father for all the acts of love he demonstrated throughout his childhood. As an adult, the speaker realizes his father’s sacrifices because he himself may also be a father and is making the same sacrifices, like his father, for his own children. The theme of a father’s unconditional love was demonstrated through the speaker’s voice and imagery. In all, the speaker experiences ungratefulness as a child then his tone changes to appreciate his father’s unconditional love.
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