In the poem "Those Winter Sundays" I'm trying to understand the overall meaning of the poem along with the form of it. However, considering the only sonnet-like attributes the poem has is the fact...

In the poem "Those Winter Sundays" I'm trying to understand the overall meaning of the poem along with the form of it. However, considering the only sonnet-like attributes the poem has is the fact it has 14 lines and is maybe a love poem (not sure), it’s not very sonnet-ish. The poem doesn’t rhyme and is not written in regular iambic pentameter, leading me to ask:

What does everyone believe to be the form of the poem (sonnet?)? and how the form contributes to the poem's main message (love?). Would love for some feedback, thank you everyone!

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shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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You’re right about Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” not appearing to conform to the conventions of the typical sonnet.

The Petrarchan sonnet is composed of an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines), while the Shakespearean sonnet has three quatrains (four lines) and a couplet (two lines). “Those Winter Sundays” has three stanzas:  the first with five lines, the second with four lines, and the third with five lines. The only obvious similarity between Hayden’s poem and the Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets is the total line count of 14.

However, this is not particularly surprising to many in the poetry business. According to Poets.org, the modern sonnet has strayed far from its formal roots:

. . . today’s sonnet can often only be identified by the ghost imprint that haunts it, recognizable by the presence of 14 lines or even by name only. 

This seems to fit what we see with “Those Winter Sundays.” However, if we look closely, I think we can see one more similarity in this poem with the Shakespearean sonnet. The Shakespearean sonnet’s concluding couplet is usually meant to comment on the rest of the poem in an important or even surprising way. Look at the last two lines of “Those Winter Sundays”:

What did I know, what did I know,

Of love’s austere and lonely offices?

In these last two lines, Hayden has the poem’s speaker, the son, reveal that he realizes his own inability to understand what his father’s responsibilities are as a provider and protector. It changes the overall impact of the poem, bringing the father’s actions into focus in a different way. Even though Hayden did not separate these two lines in the form of a couplet, he still uses them in the same way Shakespeare did.

Sources:

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