Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

“Those Winter Sundays” is a 1962 poem written by American poet and essayist Robert Hayden. It is, essentially, a poem about parental love and sacrifice, and memory. In it, the narrator remembers how Sunday mornings looked like when he was a child, and how his father got up early to start a fire and "polish his good shoes." It is much later in life that the narrator realizes of the sacrifice his father made for him, and the love he felt for his son.

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

Hayden wrote the poem as if it’s an entry of a personal diary, explaining how the narrator perhaps didn’t really have a warm and loving relationship with his father. With just fourteen lines, Hayden manages to explain the depth of family relationships, especially those between a parent and a child.

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,

The poem consists of three stanzas that don’t follow a particular rhyme, or rhythm. It has a reflective, perhaps even a nostalgic tone, as the narrator recalls of his childhood, and begins to appreciate all of the meaningful things his father did for him (which he didn’t appreciate when he was young). The poem ends with a rhetoric question, which alludes to the fact that the narrator probably never managed to reconcile with his father.

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

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