Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 237

This poem by Robert Hayden tells the story of the speaker's father, who was never "thanked" for the work he performed early on Sunday mornings in the "blueblack cold." The speaker, now an adult, seems to be lamenting the fact that he spoke "indifferently" to his father, never pausing to thank him for the work he did for his family: waking up early, warming the house, polishing his son's shoes. We can identify a theme, therefore, of regret and ingratitude: now, after time has passed, the speaker is sorry that he did not properly acknowledge the "austere and lonely offices" his father performed out of love.

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The complex bond between a parent and child is another key theme in this poem. There is some indication given as to why, perhaps, the younger speaker behaved "indifferently" towards his father—the brief observation that the house held "chronic angers" suggests that it was not an entirely happy childhood. Possibly the speaker's father was given to anger. This, we can infer, may have led the speaker to miss the fact that parental love was being shown in different ways: through "labor" and physical effort. As the speaker's father had "driven out the cold" physically, he had also, in some ways, driven it out metaphorically, warming the house as an act of love for his children. However, at the time, this was not a form of love the speaker adequately understood.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

“Those Winter Sundays” benefits from biographical and historical interpretation. Robert Hayden was a mid-twentieth century African American poet who rarely called attention to racial issues. In fact, he was often criticized in the decades before his death by younger and more political black writers for not using racial themes more overtly.

The themes are there nonetheless. Hayden grew up in Detroit in the 1920’s as that city was being transformed by the migrations of hundreds of thousands of blacks moving from the South to the industrial North for work. His neighborhood was changing daily. In addition, his own family life was a difficult and unstable one. His parents abandoned him as a baby, giving him to neighbors to raise. He believed that he had been adopted by the Haydens, but they were only his foster parents. To complicate matters even more, the woman who used to come to stay with the Haydens when he was young, Hayden later learned, was in fact Robert’s biological mother. Such a strained family situation undoubtedly created tensions for all involved.

This background gives new meaning to the poem, and especially to line 9 and the unresolved question...

(The entire section contains 685 words.)

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