Literary Analysis Of Those Winter Sundays By Robert Hayden

It is difficult for children to understand the efforts parents put into taking care of a family. They often do not see the love that is expressed indirectly towards them, but it is simply natural for a young child to be self-centered. Some parents do not show approval or give attention to their child, causing the relationship to become estranged. It is only in adulthood the child is able to see the goodness in the parent. In Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays” the speaker (most likely a man) looks back on his childhood and remembers his father waking up early every Sunday to warm the house up and polish his shoes for him. Later in life, the speaker becomes aware of how selfless his father really was and realizes that he should have been more appreciative of all the sacrifices his father made. In the poem “Those Winter Sundays” the author uses imagery, diction, and sound quality to illustrate a parent’s unconditional love for their child. Imagery causes the reader to become more emotionally attached to the poem by appealing to the reader’s senses. These mental pictures capture certain feelings that the poet wants the reader to connect with. Hayden opens the poem with an image of the father waking up in the “blueblack cold” to make “banked fires blaze” with his “cracked hands”. 

The dark color of the “blueblack cold” suggests a bruise to highlight the pain of the unpleasant conditions and hardness of life that the father faced. The image of the father’s cracked hands over the fire provokes readers to feel a raw emotion and sympathy for him. Hayden opens the poem with this visual image to present the father as a hard-working parent. Once the fire is fully lit, the son wakes up and hears the “cold splintering, breaking”. Through this auditory image, the readers can almost sense the brittleness of their father-son relationship but also the strength of the father’s love. The son gets out of bed as soon as the “rooms [are] warm” to dress up and get ready for the day. The warmth spreads throughout the house in such a way that it envelops the readers and allows the father’s love to become something tangible. 

Through diction, Hayden is able to add more texture and depth to the poem. Diction allows readers to feel the effect of each word and its complex meaning. Right at the beginning of the poem in line one, the reader can sense the distance between the father and son when the son formally calls him “father” and not dad. To further describe their estranged relationship the speaker admits to “speaking indifferently” to his father despite the fact that he had just warmed the house up and polished his shoes for him. This indifference implies the son’s lack of gratitude and the lack of communication between them. The son waking up every morning already “fearing the chronic anger of that house” reveals that there is ongoing tension in the house and that the son sees his father as a negative influence. The son never calls the house his “home” and refers to it as “that house”. Even as an adult, the speaker still feels an emotional detachment from his childhood and the house he grew up in. At the end of the poem, the speaker defines parental love as “love’s austere and lonely offices”. The speaker uses the word “austere” to present his father’s love as tough love. He chooses to describe parenting as “lonely offices” because to him it seems more of a duty than an act of kindness. 

“Those Winter Sundays” becomes more of an experience with all the rhythms and pulses that the sound qualities evoke. In addition to that, the sound qualities strengthen the poem’s regretful and melancholic tone. The repetition of the word “cold” emphasizes the type of atmosphere in their home and the distant relationship between them. The speaker deeply reflects on the “coldness” of his own heart. The repetition of “what did I know” makes it obvious that the speaker keeps pondering why it took him so long to realize and appreciate his father’s selfless love. He regrets the times he took his love for granted and understands that he was too oblivious to see it. Alliteration is seen in line 4 and 5 in the words “weekday weather” and “banked fires blaze”. This alliteration creates a rhythm that shows that the father’s love was always present even though at times it did not seem like it. Consonance is found in the first stanza in the words that have a harsh “k” sound from the hard “c”: clothes, blueblack, cold, cracked, ached, weekday, banked, and thanked. This consonance resembles their troubled father-son relationship because of the way the words clash with the more softer and gentle sounds of the poem. 

“Those Winter Sundays” can almost feel like a diary entry or an apology letter to the father especially when the speaker asks: “what did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?”. It sounds like the speaker is crying because he knows it is too late to tell his father “thank you”. In order for him to have realized his father’s perpetual love, he most likely had to have become a father himself or the father had to have passed away. As a grown up, he is now able to see that love is not only expressed through hugs and kisses. Hayden purposefully ends the poem with this rhetorical question to advise the readers to reflect on their own relationships. He states that “no one ever thanked him” for these sacrifices, but because of how selfless his father was he still kept getting up every Sunday to warm the house up and polish his shoes for him. Like an afterthought, this acknowledgment is placed at the end of the first stanza to show that speaker simply regrets not returning that love and recognizes how complicated their father-son relationship was. Throughout the poem Hayden uses imagery, diction, and sound qualities to help trigger the reader’s own memories and to explain how the perspective of familial love changes overtime. 

16 August 2021
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