How does imagery, metaphors and/or similes contribute to the meaning of "Those Winter Sundays"?How do they relate to the emotions or ideas communicated by the poem "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert...

How does imagery, metaphors and/or similes contribute to the meaning of "Those Winter Sundays"?

How do they relate to the emotions or ideas communicated by the poem "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The controlling metaphor of Robert Hayden's "Whose Winter Sundays" is in the father's "austere and lonely offices," acts of love performed against the elements so that the family would not encounter the cold.  Like the fire that the father builds, the imagery moves from cold to warm:  The father rises in the "blueblack cold,/then with cracked hands that ached from labor...." he builds a fire to warm the house.  Still in bed, the poet as a boy wakes and hears "the cold splintering, breaking."  The cold is bitter, and can be heard as well as felt.  The sensory images become auditory with the words splintering and breaking.  When the boy rises, he can still sense the "chronic angers" of the house.  This metaphor compares the harsh auditory images to complaints.  That is, it is as though the house complains as the father seeks to get it to warm up.

In the third stanza, however, the images become warmer as the poet reflectively expresses his appreciation of the father who

had driven out the cold/And polished my good shoes as well.

These images are warmer; the shining of the shoes expresses a positive feeling, and the father emerges as respected and admired through Hayden's use of these warm images in the closing couplet:

What did I know, what did I know/of love's austere and lonely offices?

The speaker, now a man, realizes that it was wrong that "No one ever thanked him."  Just as there has been a gap between the father and the son in the boy's youth as expressed in the first two stanzas, so, too, is there a gap between the perspective of the speaker as a youth and, finally, as an adult.

martyweis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” recounts his father’s ritual of waking early every Sunday to warm the house. This three-stanza poem contains hot and cold imagery, and it is important to realize that, ironically, this imagery becomes less vivid as the poem progresses.

In the first stanza, we learn that the father woke early in “the blueblack cold” and “made / banked fires blaze.” This stanza features the most vivid imagery of the poem. The “blueblack cold” is followed by “banked fires blaze”—phrases that conjure antithetical images while sounding remarkably similar. That these sound so similar while meaning something so different—the first is an image of heat, the second of cold—mirrors the speaker’s indifferent tone (“No one ever thanked him").

The speaker moves slowly and indifferently, neither commenting on the heat nor his newly polished shoes to his father. By the time we reach the third stanza, the imagery recedes, becoming less and less vivid. The central imagery of the final stanza is on the boy’s polished shoes. This image is smooth and passionless, like the speaker’s tone as he reflects on the indifferent behavior of his youth. Instead of the “cracked hands” of the first stanza and the “cold splintering, breaking” of the second, the polished shoes lack texture. As a result, the speaker seems coldest when the house is warmest.

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