Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 326

This short poem by Robert Hayden comprises only three stanzas, but its impact is significant. What is interesting about this poem is that it begins with an omission: "Sundays too" the speaker's father got up early. As the speaker goes on to lament that "no one ever thanked" his father for his labors in driving away the cold at home, we understand the depth of his regret is intensified because it was not only on Sundays that his father woke to work for his family. On the contrary, it is only this final indignity—that, after working all week for his family, the father then woke up on Sundays too—that has moved the speaker to express his regrets.

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The details in the poem are evocative: the cold "splintering, breaking" is an image which uses dynamic verbs to convey the active process of cold being driven away. These are details that make us able to hear, as well as see, the winter mornings; we can feel the slowness of the speaker rising and dressing "when the rooms were warm." The poem seems to warm up along with the morning, as we feel the father's love for the speaker.

The poem concludes, then, by bringing back the coldness—using slightly archaic language, the speaker regrets the "austere and lonely offices" of love which he did not know of then. There is a sense of a sigh in the repeated rhetorical question: "What did I know, what did I know . . . " It is suggested that the speaker knows of these "offices" now. The word "office" does simply mean task or duty, but in modern English it is rarely used in this context: as such, it connotes to us the mundane office work that might make up a parent's week, and suggests that every day a father goes to work, he is expressing love for his children then, too. Probably, this too goes unthanked until children grow up and understand.

The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 577

“Those Winter Sundays” is a short lyric in which the speaker remembers a moment in his childhood and thinks about the sacrifices his father made for him then. This split or double perspective of the poem provides its power, for the poem’s meaning depends upon the differences between what the boy knew then and what the man—a father himself, perhaps—knows now.

The poem begins abruptly. The second word of the first line, “too,” in fact, assumes actions that have gone before—that the father got up early on other days as well as Sundays to help his family. In this first stanza the reader learns about the father rising in the cold to heat the house before the rest of his family gets up. The last line of the stanza contains the first hint of one of the poem’s central themes: “No one ever thanked him.”

In the second stanza, the narrator recalls waking as the cold, like ice, was “splintering, breaking” as a result of his father’s having lit a wood fire to warm the house. And “slowly” he would get up and dress—in the stanza’s last and the poem’s most difficult line—“fearing the chronic angers of that house.” At this point the reader can only guess at the source of those angers. The third and final stanza continues the actions of the narrator, who speaks “indifferently” to the father who has worked so early and so hard to heat the house for his family and has “polished my good shoes as well.” It is Sunday, and probably the boy and his father (and other unnamed family members) are going to church.

In the concluding couplet of the poem, the adult narrator, who has been implied throughout the poem, suddenly steps forward with his final poignant question, “what did I know/ of love’s austere and lonely offices?” If the body of the poem deals with the gap between the father and his son, the poem’s focus in the last two lines is clearly on...

(The entire section contains 1530 words.)

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