Those Winter Sundays Questions and Answers
by Robert Hayden

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Comment on the presentation of parental love in "Those Winter Sundays" and "Mother to Son."

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Both of these excellent poems narrate a particular kind of relationship between parents and their sons although both are very different in the way that this is presented. In the first person account of "Those Winter Sundays," it is only now as an adult, looking back, that the speaker is able to fully appreciate what his father did every Sunday morning, when, exhausted and cold himself after a week of work, he would get up before everybody else and light the fires to warm the house up. As he looks back on this as an adult, he regrets his lack of appreciation and bemoans his ignorance of what a self-sacrificial man his father was:

What did I know, what did I know

of love's austere and lonely offices?

The question that ends this poem is haunting in the way that it suggests the desire of the speaker to be able to go back and thank his father for all the "austere and lonely offices" that he performed.

In "Mother to Son," the speaker is the mother with the implied listener being the son. What is significantly different about this poem is that the mother clearly tells her son about how hard her life has been, but what she does do is try to instil within him a fighting spirit that will cause him to keep on going in life no matter how hard it seems. She urges her son to take her example and to follow it in life:

But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now--
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

It is the fact that the speaker is "still goin'," even though her life has been "no crystal stair," that is meant to inspire her son to similarly battle through life's difficulties and to remain moving onwards and forwards in the hope of creating a better future for himself.

Parental love in these two poems is therefore presented as being both based on acts demonstrating sacrificial love but also on setting an example in the way you live your own life for your children to follow that will allow them to remain standing when faced with life's vicissitudes.

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