Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

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What emotions or beliefs do particular sections of Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" suggest?

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Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays” can evoke a number of emotions and beliefs.  Thus, the first four lines of the poem can evoke feelings of cold and discomfort. These lines seem to reflect the father’s belief that he owes it to his child to provide that child with comfort, even if doing so causes discomfort and even pain to the father himself. Line five suggests a feeling of warmth, but this line already seems to imply the belief that people deserve thanks when they work to help others. Already in line 5 one can begin to sense the speaker’s feelings of regret, shame, and self-reproach – emotions that become fully explicit at the very end of the poem. This poem, in a sense, is a response to the speaker’s implied belief that people should be thanked when they cause discomfort to themselves in order to comfort others.  This poem is one way by which the speaker expresses belated thanks.

Lines 6-9 again emphasize the feelings of cold, but feelings of warmth are much more prominent in these lines. The emotions implied here are at first feelings of both literal and figurative warmth, but then the reference to “chronic angers” implies emotions of fear, apprehension, tension, and discomfort.  Clearly these lines also imply the belief that it would be best if such emotions did not exist:

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house  . . . .

Line 10 again seems to imply an emotion of present self-reproach, as if the speaker now regrets speaking “indifferently” to his father when he was a boy.  The poem thus implies once again the belief that people owe respect and thanks to those who help them. Yet the word “indifferently” may also imply an emotion of latent hostility or at least wariness by the boy toward the father when the boy was a boy.  Or perhaps that word simply implies an emotion of complacency, of taking the father for granted.

By the time we reach lines 11-14 (the poem, significantly, is a sonnet – a kind of poetry associated with love), feelings of gratitude and also of shame become more and more obvious.  The boy, speaking now as a man, suggests increasingly clearly the love he received from his father and the love and respect he now feels for his father in return.  The emotion of love (from both father and son) is especially emphasized in the final two lines, and those lines also imply that love should be reciprocal, not merely offered by one person to another. Emotions and beliefs are tightly bound together in this poem, with each evoking and reinforcing the other.

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