Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

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In Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays," what is the speaker's current attitude towards his father?

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I like the way your question clearly points towards an understanding of how the speaker is looking back on his childhood from the vantage point of reaching mature adulthood. Thus it is that the poem presents us with two different attitudes and beliefs about the speaker's father. The child that he was obviously took his father's acts of self-sacrificial love for granted. He spoke "indifferently" to his father, and it was clear that he did not know anything of "love's austere and lonely offices."

However, if we think for one moment about how the older and wiser narrator describes what his father did, the respect and love and sense of thankfulness that he has for his father becomes evident. Note the way that he describes the cold as being "blueblack" and stresses the way that his father, even on Sundays, after a week of labour, would get up without fail, even though he was never thanked for this service:

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labour in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

Such details that the speaker as a boy had been blind to clearly indicate the way that the speaker, now he has grown up into an adult, appreciates his father for what he did and recognises the sacrifical acts of love that his father performed, day in and day out, in spite of his own exhaustion, for his son.

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In Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays," what seems to be the speaker's attitude toward his father now?

This poem is written by an adult speaker looking back on how he thought of his father when he was a child and then comparing that to the understanding and wisdom that age has given him now. The line "No one ever thanked him," at the end of the first stanza, confirms the way in which the speaker and other family members completely took his sacrificial action of getting up so early on Sundays for granted. Although he does it to warm the house up for them before they got up, they never thanked him. In addition, the speaker describes how he spoke "indifferently" to his father when he came down, even though his father has polished his shoes for him.

The final lines of the poem show how greatly the poet's view has changed of his father now he is an adult himself:

What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
The sudden change of lexis with the words "austere" and "lonely offices" indicate the change of tone, which is supported by the repetition of "What did I know." These last two lines show that the speaker now feels considerable guilt for the way that he took his father for granted and that now he recognises that what his father did every Sunday morning was a real act of sacrificial love.
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What do the last two lines in "Those Winter Sundays" say about the speaker's view of his father now?

The speaker is now an adult, looking back upon his childhood. He shares with the reader all that his father did for him and the rest of the family, getting up alone early in the "blueback cold" (2), with hands that were so chapped the skin cracked, so the family can awake to a warm house.  The narrator realizes that no one in the family thanked him for performing this task.  The speaker also tells us that he spoke "indifferently" (10) to his father, who not only made sure the house was warm, but also polished the narrator's shoes. In the last two lines, he is saying how young and foolish he was, to not understand that love could be expressed quietly, without an audience, by performing simple tasks for the people you love. There is some sense in these lines of a narrator who has come to understand this because he has now had the experience of performing lonely, simple tasks for his family, although it is also possible that this is an insight he has come to just through the maturing process.

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