In “Those Winter Sundays,” the speaker is a grown man recalling the cold, wintery Sunday mornings of his youth. With feelings of sadness and regret, he recounts how his father strove to keep his family warm. The speaker remembers specific thankless tasks that his father tirelessly completed to care and express his love for the boy.
First, the speaker demonstrates feelings of melancholy for the harsh conditions his father endured. After working as a physical laborer during the week, the man would rise early each Sunday morning—the day of rest—in the pre-dawn “blueblack cold.” With painfully weathered “cracked hands that ached” from manual labor, he toiled to light and keep a fire burning in order to heat the house.
Second, the speaker expresses remorse for the fact that he (and others) did not appreciate his father’s efforts. He emphasizes this idea by ending the first stanza with the short, straightforward statement, “No one ever thanked him.”
Even worse, the speaker recalls
Speaking indifferently to him [his father],
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
The speaker recognizes his failure to acknowledge and appreciate even the small ways his father demonstrated care and love. He regrets his callous attitude and that he had taken the man for granted.
The speaker conveys a third feeling of tension in the second stanza. He alludes to a complicated relationship with his father. He admits to trying to stay in bed and avoid his father for as long as possible, rising only when his father called after warming up the house.
slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.
Apparently, the speaker recalls anxiety and evasion, perhaps caused by strife and acrimony within the family. The father may or may not have been part—or even a source—of this stress. The distance and disconnect between the speaker and his father may have resulted from this tension. The speaker is matter-of-fact in presenting these past feelings of unhappiness and resentment.
The speaker’s fourth feeling of heartache is palpable and understandable. He ends the poem with
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
He bemoans the ignorance and insensitivity of youth. His father may have behaved in an “austere” or intimidating manner, but he was dutiful. Although his father did not express showy or sentimental affection, his acts proved that he did love the speaker. As a parent, he fulfilled the difficult “office” of a father through loyal, consistent care and selfless acts without expectation of gratitude in return. The speaker suggests that his father may have felt “lonely” or disconnected, since his son was “indifferent” and never thanked him for his care.