Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

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In "Those Winter Sundays," what are the son's feelings towards his father?

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Robert Hayden's poem is written as a soliloquy by an adult son who recalls his stern and taciturn, but loving father, a father whose love he has failed to recognize as a boy, partly because of his youth, and partly because of his lack of understanding of the condition of his father as an African-American male and the conflicting emotions--"the chronic angers of that house"--he felt and brought home to his family. Now, as an adult, the son understands that his father communicated his love through his actions:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze.

That the father has allowed the son to rise "slowly" indicates that he treats the boy with more tenderness than is apparent since he could have made his son rise and help him with the fires as he started them. Further, the man's gentle feelings of love are certainly apparent in his having polished the boy's good shoes for going to church. And, in the realization that the boy's life will be hard as an adult, perhaps the father is "austere" in his love in order to harden the boy to the "lonely offices" of adult life as an African-American male who must labor with "cracked hands." 

Indeed, the powerful final lines express the man's apprehension of what he did not know as a boy and his regret for his misunderstanding of the extenuating conditions of his father's life, 

What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Thus, the themes of ingratitude and hindsight prevail in this poem about an unacknowledged love by a father for his son.

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What words in Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" suggest the son's feelings toward his father and his home?

I would argue that the feelings between father and son were ruled by a contrast in what it means to love. As the previous educator mentions, the adult narrator is able to understand that the father's dutiful attention was a demonstration of love, though nothing else in the poem indicates any affection between father and son.

The following lines are quite telling: "When the rooms were warm, he’d call, / and slowly I would rise and dress, / fearing the chronic angers of that house..." There is an emotive contrast between "warm" and "angers." This suggests that, though the narrator's father was dutiful—ensuring that the house was warm, calling his son to rise in the morning, and polishing his shoes—he was frequently angry or frustrated. In the next line, we learn that the narrator spoke "indifferently to him," which can be attributed both to the ingratitude of a youth and the possible need to steel himself against his father's "chronic angers."

In the final line, he is critical of his former behavior: "What did I know, what did I know / of love's austere and lonely offices?" "Austere" describes the father's dutifulness, which did not immediately translate as love. Hayden manipulates the meaning of "offices" to describe the father's chores as well as to emphasize the solitary nature of this unappreciated work. Father and son occupied different spaces—that of caretaker and the one receiving care.

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What words in Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" suggest the son's feelings toward his father and his home?

The question you need to think about is are you talking about the son as an adult looking back on his childhood and his father or the son when he was going through his childhood? The poem makes clear that there is a massive contrast between these two different states.

As a child, the speaker is clearly ungrateful and unaware of what his father does for him, taking it for granted and not thanking him. The narrator says that he spoke "indifferently" to his father when he came downstairs after his father had risen so early and warmed the rooms, and even polished his shoes as well. The first stanza states that "No one ever thanked him" for such labours and evidence of sacrificial love.

However, the change in the narrator as an adult looking back at his childhood now is evident through the last two lines when he asks himself the following question:

What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
The wording of the "lonely offices" of love shows that now the speaker is able to look back upon himself as a child and berate himself for not recognising his father's sacrificial actions and love towards him.
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What words in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” suggest the son’s feelings toward his father and his home? How does his attitude change?

In Robert Hayden's “Those Winter Sundays,” a son looks back on his memories of his father with new insight and even some regret. Let's look at this in more detail to get you started on your essay.

The speaker focuses in on a particular set of memories, namely, cold Sunday mornings. He remembers how his father used to get up and dress in the cold, with his hands aching from all his hard work, and to make the house warm for the rest of the family. He would not call the family until the “rooms were warm.”

The speaker did not appreciate his father's efforts at the time. In fact, he seems to have been angry with his father. He would get up and dress, but he feared the “chronic angers of that house.” This does not seem to have been a happy family. There was conflict at home. We do not learn the nature of it, but the speaker apparently blamed his father for it, for he spoke only “indifferently” to his father. He did not thank him for warming the house or for polishing his shoes. There was no appreciation in the speaker as a boy.

Yet now the speaker realizes exactly what his father did for the family. Look at the poem's last two lines: “What did I know, what did I know / of love's austere and lonely offices?” The speaker implies that he knew nothing of such things as a child, but he does now. There is regret here and guilt, too. Notice how he repeats the question. Looking back, probably as an adult, he understands the situation more clearly. He realizes that his father's actions showed his love even if his words did not.

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