What literary devices and style does the author use in "Those Winter Sundays"?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Linda-allen has given a wonderful example of devices in this poem that I would like to expand upon.  Specifically, I would like to call your attention again to the vivid imagery of "Those Winter Sundays" in addition to alliteration. 

One must understand, also, the interesting structure of this poem.  Most scholars, when they see a fourteen line poem, they immediately think "sonnet."  However, the rhyme scheme and meter don't fit the bill.  Therefore, "Those Winter Sundays" continues to be an astounding lyrical poem worthy of study in its own right.  Let's look at it in its entirety here:

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

In my own personal opinion, it's the language of the poem more than its stanza form that catch my attention.  Just look at the intensity of the imagery!  Look at words like "blueblack cold" which deals with the sense of sight and touch.  Or how about the ice "splintering, breaking" which again gets to those images of both sound and touch.  The juxtaposition here is between the cold of the ice vs. "the room was warm."  Again, we delve into the beauty of touch imagery.  We extend on the touch imagery with the idea of "cracked hands," again sight and touch.  Then there is "speaking indifferently" which focuses upon the sound.  How about "polished my good shoes" which finally touches all the senses except for taste.  This is a delight for the senses, this poem!

And since even the imagery touches upon sound, let's move further into sound by looking at alliteration and assonance.  Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds.  The sound of the letter "k," is not a peaceful sound, but promotes cacophony.  Take a look at these words full of the "k" sound:  “blueblack cold,” “cracked,” “ached,” “banked,” “thanked,” "speaking," "chronic," "cold," and "breaking." Another example of alliteration is in the "w" sound.  Again, we have a sound that doesn't give us a good feeling.  Look a the words, "weekday weather," "with," "one," "when," "were warm," "would," "what," and "know." 

Finally, let's look at the assonance in the poem.  (Assonance, of course, is the repetition of vowel sounds, as opposed to the consonant sounds of alliteration.) Here, it's pertinent to look at the long "a" sound.  Notice the words, mostly from the first stanza, "Sundays," "ached," "labor," "weekday," "made," "ablaze," "wake," and "breaking."  Again, the long "a," not a pleasing sound.  More like a whine.  Assonance is a wonderful stylistic device that serve the poet well here.

Therefore, you can see that, due to its great use of language and imagery, "Those Winter Sundays" is full of stylistic devices.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps the strongest literary devices used in this poem are symbolism and imagery. As for imagery, we can almost feel the heat from the fire or the pain of the "cracked hands that ached" and hear the thawing out of the "cold splintering, breaking." As for symbolism, the father's actions in the poem are a symbol of love without having to say the words.

This poem has no set rhythm or end-of-line rhyme; there is some internal rhyme with the words "banked" and "thanked." It has 14 lines, like a sonnet, but it does not follow any of the conventional sonnet forms.

Other devices the poet uses include: personification, in the "chronic angers of that house"; and alliteration, in the repetition of the "k" sound (ached, cracked, banked, thanked, etc.) and in the repetition of "s" sounds.

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