Those Winter Sundays Questions and Answers
by Robert Hayden

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What does the father sacrifice in the poem? Why is it a great sacrifice for him?

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This poem is narrated from the perspective of the father's son, who seems to be looking back, retrospectively, and reflecting upon their relationship.

The son indicates that his father used to make many sacrifices for him. For example, in the opening stanza he says that his father would get up early on Sundays, "in the blueblack cold," to light the fires for his son. The father seems to have done this so that the son didn't have to wake up to the icy cold of the house.

The father also used to work hard to provide for his son. He had "cracked hands that ached / from labor in the weekday." The implication here is that the father worked long hours, and that, given the condition of his hands, his work was probably some form of manual labor. The son seems to feel somewhat guilty about all these sacrifices that his father made for him because he says, at the end of the first stanza, that "no one ever thanked him." The son also remembers, in the third stanza, and with a suggestion of guilt and shame, that he used to speak "indifferently" to his father.

In the third stanza, the son also recalls that the father also used to polish his shoes for him in the mornings. In doing so, the father would have had to get up early, despite being tired from the working week, and he would also have had to brave the cold of the house while his son was still warm in bed.

In the final line of the poem, the son describes his father's sacrifices as "love's austere and lonely offices." The words "austere" and "lonely" suggest that the father lived a life devoid of comforts or company, and that he lived such a life so that his son might one day live a better one. Seen in this light, one might infer that the father essentially, and metaphorically, sacrificed his life for his son.

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