Robert Hayden’s Poetry those Winter Sundays

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This poem may be about a past memory of the poet. The title displays a nostalgic mood, when it is first read, and shows the poet’s desire to remember his childhood through this poem. He may explain his memories of the winter time, or winter break, and a specific event that occurred on Sundays.


On Sundays, as well, my dad woke up promptly

he put on his attire before sunrise in the freezing weather,

His damaged hands throbbed

Due to the work he did everyday

He lit the fireplace. Nobody showed their appreciation.

When I woke up, the chilliness was gone.

Once the house was hot and cozy, my dad told us to come out,

I would gradually get up and put on my clothes,

Scared of the fickle mood of the family

I spoke to him with disinterest

The same person who always made sure the chilly weather was out of the house

and refined and cleaned even my best looking footwear too.

My mind was absent

from the harsh and committed reality of love.


Positive words: thanked, polished, good, love

Negative words: cold, cracked, ached, splintering, breaking, chronic, angers, austere, lonely

The poet clearly uses more words associated with a negative connotation than words with a positive connotation, because the poem explains the hard work that his father did, and how it wasn’t always pleasant or easy. In addition, the poet explains how he never “thanked” his father, which explains why similar words like appreciation, gratitude, or recognition are not used to express the poet’s feelings from the past.

Concrete: clothes, hands, fires, shoes

Abstract: angers, love

The poet does use more concrete words than abstract; however, this number does not affect the poem’s meaning or purpose.

The word blueblack is interesting, because the poet could have interpreted it in many ways. It could mean that it is dark outside to indicate that his father woke up before sunrise. Hayden could also be trying to explain a state of being through color. He may have used blue and black as colors to describe the word “cold.” Finally, this word could suggest something harsh or painful.

The addition of the word “too” in line one adds important meaning to the poem. The poet describes that his father still woke up early, even on Sundays which is usually meant to be a day for rest. Even though readers could interpret this as the poet being thankful to his father, later on in the poem he states, “No one ever thanked him,” which could contradict the readers’ understanding.


Blaze- bright flame or fire

Chronic- habitual, recurring frequently

Indifferently- no interest or concern

Austere- severe, strict, or harsh

Figures of speech:

Metaphor/Imagery: “hear the cold splintering, breaking”- This compares the cold to fire splintering, and cracking, which is also helps the reader imagine the fire lit in the house.

Personification: “chronic angers of that house”- This example is a slight example of personification, because it shows that the house has human feelings.

Symbolism: In every stanza, Hayden identifies the temperature. He goes back and forth from cold to hot, and explains the weather outside and inside. The temperature represents the poet’s relationship with his father internally and externally. His relationship is “cold' or unappreciated externally, but now he is realizing that his internal feelings for his father are “warm” or thankful.


This poem begins by describing Hayden’s dad waking up early in the cold weather. The use of the phrases “blueblack cold,” “cracked hands,” and “ached from labor” puts the reader’s mind into a feeling of cold and harsh temperature, and allows them to see his father’s hands. The whole poem repeats the idea of temperature, and readers are able to imagine that through the words. Although the reader feels cold and harsh, there is also a feeling of warmth, when he says, “when the rooms were warm,” and “polished my good shoes too.” This image of his father’s kind actions comes to the reader. The poem is mainly focused on tactile imagery, allowing the reader to feel, though the sense of touch.

Sound devices:

Repetition: “What did I know, what did I know”- The poet uses this to emphasize that he was so ignorant about his father’s kind actions. It shows that he is now realizing, and appreciating his father’s work for their family.

Rhythm: Hayden did not write this poem in regular iambic pentamer. The poet uses this technique to explain how his emotions are also irregular, because when he was little, he didn’t care about his father, but now he is realizing what great things his father has done for him. His emotions are moved like a roller coaster, just like the rhythm of his poem.

Rhyme: The only examples of rhyme present is of internal rhyme, Hayden only does this in lines 5 and 6, where the words banked and thanked rhyme, and splintering and breaking rhyme. Although this is used, it does not have a very important purpose in this poem.

Consonance: There is some consonance in this poem using the “c” or “k” sound. For example, Hayden uses this in the words, cracked, ached, weekday, banked, thanked, and chronic. This does not create cacophony, because it is not too noticeable or harsh, but just right to bring some character into the poem.

Alliteration/Consonance: The poet uses the ‘B” sound frequently in this poem, especially in the first stanza. Although the examples don’t clearly show alliteration or consonance, the sound is still prominent, and noticeable. The word “Blueblack” is only one word, but when it is pronounced, it stands out to the reader, because of the “B” sound that is repeated. Similarly, in line 5, “banked fires blaze” also shows the “B” sound. It is possible that the poet did not mean to do this, but it is something that the reader can remember about this poem.

Overall form:

This poem is an example of a sonnet, which means is has 14 lines. It is open form poetry, because it does not rhyme, or have a specific rhythm to it. Hayden writes in the first-person point of view, and clearly explains his emotions through that. The poet most likely chose to use this form, because it represents his feelings and thoughts changing, just like the rhythm, and rhyme.


The attitude of this poem is regretful, yet thankful. These two words are rather contradictory, because one is negative while the other is positive. However, both are represented in this poem through the words and shifts. The poet has a negative attitude about not recognizing his father’s love, to him in his childhood. Having said that, Hayden shows a positive side to the reader, explaining that he loves his father, and is very thankful for him. The speaker is also slightly ashamed of himself, due to the fact that he never understood how his father showed his love to him. The ashamed attitude comes in when the poet states, “What did I know, what did I know.” He asks himself why and how he did not understand this earlier in his childhood.


The biggest shift in this poem is after line 12 and at the beginning of line 13 when the poet says, “What did I know, what did I know.” He shifts from speaking about just what he remembers, to what he now understands about those memories. He understands his dad’s caring and loving nature, and his purpose of doing those acts of kindness for his family. The reader also views the speaker differently, because they know that he was not ungrateful, but that he just never understood his father’s love for him. There is also a shift of tone between these lines from nostalgic to questioning. This time change goes along with the fact of the speaker realizing things. There is a mild shift from the second stanza to the third, because this is where the speaker hints the reader that he is questioning his feelings. However, the major shift is in line 13.


The title still represents a nostalgic mood, of the speaker, but with a deeper feeling. For the poet, winter Sundays were significant to him and his childhood. His father would wake up early, and warm up the house. However, using this poem, the poet is flashing back to tell, the reader that “Those Winter Sundays” were overlooked back then.


Love can drive people to sacrifice for others’ happiness.

This is one of the main themes of the poem, because Hayden’s father loved his son and family very much, which caused him to sacrifice parts of his life to make his family happy. He woke up early even on Sundays, when he could have otherwise slept in and rested after his long week of work. The poet’s father wanted to show his love through acts of kindness towards his family, but that made him give up any or all luxuries for himself.    

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Cite this page

Robert Hayden's Poetry Those Winter Sundays. (2021, Apr 05). Retrieved July 12, 2024 , from

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