Robert Hayden in his poem “Those Winter Sundays” is recalling his reminiscences from his upbringing, where he discloses his feelings using profound and evocative imagery. This 14 line lyric poem emphasizes on the misconceptions of a child about his caring and hard working father’s efforts. Moreover, the poem is based on a twofold theme- love and ingratitude, which creates sympathy in the reader for the father. Each stanza evokes different emotions which are highlighted through the use of dominant alliterations, for instance blueblack and weekday weather etc., metaphor such as chronic angers and harsh use of consonants such as banked blazed and thanked etc.
In the first verse contemplative and repenting tone associated with imagery is correlated to winter and ruggedness. These two extreme tones enlighten two different feelings. The poet focuses on his father’s efforts which were not appreciated by him as expressed in line 5, “No one ever thanked him.” His hard work and dedication towards the upbringing of the children was taken negatively by the poet as stated in line 1 “Sundays too” which shows his father took all the efforts even on a Sunday of waking up before dawn as in line 2, ‘blue black cold’, when it was mostly dark and slight light was appearing in the sky. Although it was a Sunday and he was already over worked at his job, stated in the line 4-5, ‘then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday’, he worked selflessly for his child’s comfort. The chilliness articulated in addition to the room temperature which the father was making an effort to amend by stirring ‘banked fires into fire’ as in line 5.
In the second stanza the poet focuses mostly on the speaker’s youth and inexperience, lack of knowledge and understanding. Where he fails to recognize the constant gratifying efforts of his father, however, he focused mainly on ‘chronic angers’ in describing his father’s moods. Here we find that love for children is always present in the parents, even if they are not appreciated. The speaker seems to be very emotional, on one hand he talks about the images of warmth associated with feelings of respect and appreciation which portray the realization of the speaker for his father, who showed his concern indirectly. On the other hand, he shows his unwillingness in getting up as he was scared of his father’s anger, as we find in the line 8-9 ‘and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house’.
In the third verse the speaker seems to have realized and regrets that he had not thanked his father’s untiring efforts. In the line, ‘speaking indifferently to him’ the person who reads gets in the picture of the insensitive behavior of the poet with his father in the past. Furthermore, the repeated questions ‘what did I know, what did I know’ suggests that the speaker has realized that he cannot excuse himself of his youthful immaturity. The phrase ‘love’s austere’ conveys how duties of his father were performed willingly for those he loved. The choice of ‘offices’ as the poem’s closing vocabulary is exceptional as it denotes to the tasks executed devotedly with no desire or gratitude or thankfulness.
Hayden’s poem leads the reader’s ignorant beliefs of the Sundays that have passed to bond with the poem’s logical brain and he feels the speaker’s repentance. Through Hayden’s descriptions, the reader creates images of his own. The words in line 5 ‘fires blaze’ and line 6 ‘splintering, breaking’ create intensity in the events taking place in the reader’s thoughts. To sum up, Hayden, through his poem, is trying to portray how a child due to his ignorance can be so harsh and unsympathetic towards his father who does everything to provide him comfort and ease in life. How regrettable it is that as children we are not capable to figure out ‘love’s austere and lonely offices’.
Hayden, Robert, ed. Glaysher, Frederick. “Those Winter Sundays”. Poetry Foundation. Liveright Publishing Corporation. Print. 24th August 2012.