The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

(The entire section is 577 words.)