Discuss the meaning of the poem "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden.  Please include details.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden recalls a missed opportunity along with bone-chilling cold on a Sunday morning.  The narrator is first person; however, the reader does not know the name or sex of the speaker.  The poem is told in a flashback, but there is no way of knowing the distance between the actual event and the narrator’s recollection.

The poem written in three stanzas does not rhyme.  The poet uses metaphors to help the reader visualize the cold:

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking

His most important metaphor refers to the people inside the house:

And slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house.

The child dreads the start of the day because there are angry people inside this house.  Who they are the poet does not say? It could be that the father and mother no longer get along and fight.  The speaker himself could be arguing with the mother or father.

 1st Stanza

The speaker sees his father in his memory and recalls this particular Sunday morning. The word too implies that the father gets up early every day…He dresses in the biting cold.  His hands are cracked open from the weather and hard work that he does every day.  The father lights the stoves and fireplaces to warm the rooms for his family. 

The most important statement in this stanza comes from the speaker. It is a present reverence for his father.  No one thanked his father for getting up and making the house warm. The speaker feels regret for the lack of gratitude expressed to his parent.

2nd Stanza

When the speaker woke up, he hears the house reacting to the warmth from the fires. His father calls out to the child.  Slowly, the child would dress dreading the “chronic angers of that house.” This phrase reflects the tone of the poem.  Initially, the poem seems to be only about the speaker remembering that no one said anything to the father about his warming up the house.

Now something new enters the scene.  The house holds strong, angry feelings.  The poet gives no more information, but the words that he choses help the reader to understand the meanings.

The word chronic means long-lasting, continuing, enduring, and persistent.  This anger has been an on-going problem in the house.  Instead of saying the home or this house, he uses is “that house.” This phrase also emphasizes that the child and the present speaker divorce themselves from the house that holds all of this wrath, rage, or resentment.

The child does not just dread the habitual rage, but rather fears it indicating that there may be violence involved or screaming.  The poet leaves it the imagination.

3rd Stanza

The child shows no emotion toward his father when he speaks to him.  The man warms the house and even polishs his shoes for him.  The parent obviously loves the child. 

The speaker of the present almost cries out:

“What did I know, what did I know

Of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Another important phrase comes from the last line of the poem.

Again the poet’s word choice suggests that the narrator regrets that he did not understand the somber but solitary job of a parent.  The speaker apparently now understands what a small “Thank You” might have meant to his father.  The poem has an “If only…” tone; however, the anger in the house may have prevented the child from relating in a positive way to his father.

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