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Poem Analysis: Those Winter Sundays

In: English and Literature

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Robert Hayden 1913-1980
Those winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
Then with 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?

Poem “Those Winter Sundays” is wrote by Robert Hayden, generally seen as a crafted lyric on a universal theme---paternal love, describing a past day and showing a present reverence for author’s father.
The title “Those Wither Sundays” emphasizes the time background. It is Sundays, not Tuesdays or Fridays. Sundays are days at home, days completely belongs to ourselves, days that we see our families the most. Hayden recalls the past and realizes how much he had to thank his father. It was a normal Sunday in winter when the author was a little boy; his father got up early, made the fire with his “cracked hands”, woke him up and polished shoes for him. The theme is presented directly and explicitly through every rich physical detail.
The poem doesn’t use a masculine pronoun; it sounds more like a woman’s. Through the choice of the gender of voice, I can see the speaker is a soft and sensitive man. Subtle wordings such as “blueblack cold”, “cracked hands”, “banked fires” sketch a simple scene with fine details; the repetition of K sounds (clothes, cold, cracked, ached, weekday), plosive B’s (blueblack, banked, blaze) reveal his sensibility and delicacy.
There are several allusions in the poem. For example, “fire blaze” suggests father’s love. Father came back from weekday labor and made fire by his cracked hands, to warm a room or to be more allegoric---a family. Hands were ached and unsmooth, but still successfully created clemency for a family in a physical and emotional way. A following sentence “I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking” metaphorically expresses author’s sensory perception. “Cold” cannot be heard, but love like a warm stream runs along whole body to the bottom of heart, he caught the intangible warm temperature as veritably as hearing the cold “splintering”. And the word “warm” appears in second stanza similarly hints at a larger meaning, it is more than a physical feeling---he contacts the warmth of father’s refined and flowing love. The short sentence that ends stanza one, “No one ever thanked him” establishes a moral structure in the scene---he owned his father a “thank you” which he did not say.
However, something seems not very harmonious. Atmosphere in home was as cold as the weather, which made speaker “fear the chronic angers of that house”. According to article Robert Hayden (1913-1980): An Appreciation, Hayden was essentially given away as a toddler by his biological parents to their next-door neighbors, raised by foster parents whose strict rules and fundamentalist religion sat heavily on him. While love has many modes of expression, in someplace it could be austere and heavy, but no mater in which way it doesn’t splinter or break as the cold air, maybe as a child, he was too young to understand this kind of love---an instinctive and authoritative love.
Hayden ends up poem with “love’s austere and lonely offices”. Word “office” is along with synonyms “function, task, responsibility, charge, duty, and obligation”, suggested by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The father’s morning routine in “Those Winter Sundays” consists of acts of responsibility and task. As an adopted child, one sometimes may have thought about “where I came from” or “what kind of love I obtained from foster parents”. As for Hayden specifically, his description of love---“austere and lonely” may conceal his question about love. On one hand he might think it is superficial and full of tight leash, something lacking “substance” and tenderness; on other hand he had to admit that he owns a gratitude to father. The repeated rhetorical question “what did I know, what did I know” becomes more direct and explicit to show his appreciation to his father, also indicates regret of his late consciousness.
The tone of this poem is peaceful with a little sorrow, full of reminisce. Tone may have changed at the end, from the rhetorical question, a sense of regret emerges. The poem’s conclusion is simple and understated, but it is resonant and powerful—a grateful but quiet love in a cold and lonely world.

Work Cited
Richards, Phillip M. "Robert Hayden (1913-1980): An Appreciation." Massachusetts Review 40.4 (1999): 599. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Sept. 2012.
Moore, Harry. "“Offices Of Love”: A New Look At The Ending Of Hayden's THOSE WINTER SUNDAYS." Explicator 69.2 (2011): 56-59. Academic Search Complete. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.

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