Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

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What is the metaphor and its connotation in "Those Winter Sundays"?

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A metaphor is a direct comparison between two unlike things for effect. Connotation is the meaning suggested by text, in contrast to denotation, which is its immediate or literal meaning.

The speaker refers to “hearing” the cold “splintering, breaking,” which gives cold a metaphorical usage; it cannot be heard. Cold here stands for the objects that are thus affected by it, such as tree branches. In his making the fire, having “driven out the cold” metaphorically represents his father’s love.

The connotations in the poem include those of individual words or passages and the large meaning of the poem as a whole. The weather has connotations of emotion. Cold is contrasted to warmth as an emotional tone. Before the fire is lit, the house is cold, but after it warms up, the speaker mentions “the chronic angers of that house.” Warmth thus connotes anger. At the end of stanza 1, the speaker says “No one ever thanked him.” The connotation of this can be gained from the beginning of the last stanza: “Speaking indifferently…” This implies that the speaker is that “no one,” the person who never thanked his father—until now, with this poem.

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Many of the words in this poem have very negative connotations: "blueblack cold," "cracked hands," and "ached," from the first stanza, for example, seem to convey the pain that the narrator's father endured. Also, "splintering, breaking," "fearing," and "chronic angers" from the second stanza are all quite negative. The narrator's father essentially tries to protect his family from these harsh and negative experiences of the cold; this is why he gets up early, even on Sundays, to make up the fires so that his family can wait until it's warm to get out of their warm beds. The words that have positive connotations, like "banked fires blaze" or "warm," are the effects of the father's work, the way he seems to show his love. It does not seem as though the narrator's father is very affectionate or loving in a warm and obvious way; instead, he shows his love by making his family more comfortable, by enduring the cold so that they do not have to.

The narrator says, "I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking." Cold describes the temperature, and cold itself cannot splinter or break, so we know that this line must be figurative. What does splinter? Wood splinters, especially when it is burning in a fire like those fires the father has made. Therefore, the cold that is breaking up, as a result of the fires the narrator's father made, is being compared to the wood that is breaking up in the fires themselves.

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The poem contains quite a bit of both metaphor and connotation. Consider the way the writer is using associations to describe the combination of cold and warmth in his home growing up. The repeated contrast between the cold of the situation and the warmth of his father's nurturing and care creates an exaggerated sense of a two-fold existence. It suggests a troubled love between the father and the son, because the son can't understand the father's sacrifice. The metaphors help to build this idea: the "blueblack cold," the "cold splintering and breaking," the father "driving out the cold," the "angers of th[e] house," and "love's austere and lonely offices" all contribute the sense that the kid doesn't quite get it. All the difficulties are projected into the house and the weather. He doesn't get his father's sacrifice, because he doesn't see it beyond his own comfort.

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