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(4 August 1913 – 25 February 1980 / Detroit)

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
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Comments about this poem (Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden )

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  • Bill Johnson (5/11/2011 8:58:00 PM)

    Good stuff, Edith! The mom was the angry one. I read that in a bio. The dad did 'small things with great love.' The poem touches me in my secret places. Bravo.

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  • Edith Assaff (3/25/2010 10:15:00 PM)

    The key to this poem is the first two words: “Sundays too” – meaning, not only did my dad get up early in the bone-numbing cold to stoke the coal furnace during his work days, but ALSO ON WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN HIS DAY OF REST. Those three letters, “TOO”, convey a world of sacrifice and pain with an incredible economy of words. Also, the father was the only member of the family who had to be naked (put on his clothes) in the “blueblack” (pre-dawn) cold, since, because of his sacrifice, the other members of the family rose after the house was heated and were able to dress in warmth. (He only calls the rest of the family “when the rooms were warm”.) Describing the pre-dawn cold as “blueblack” is very telling – the saying “it is always darkest before dawn” is very true – so dark that the black is almost blue. It is also coldest just before dawn, since the earth has been without sun the longest. “Cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather” indicates that Hayden’s father worked outdoors in the cold all week, and that his hands were chapped and cracked from never being out of the cold. This makes it even more poignant that he also has to wake to cold, and work in the cold, on Sundays – much more so than if he worked in a warm office all week.
    To understand the first stanza, you must understand that, in the days of Hayden’s youth, homes in Detroit were heated by coal which burned out overnight and left the furnace, and the house, stone cold by morning. Thus every morning the coal furnace had to be “stoked” – banked with fresh coal and re-lighted. “Banked fires blaze” refers to a real fire, since the old furnaces burned hot with live coals. The line “hear the cold splintering, breaking” refers to the sound the coal furnaces made when the coal “caught” and pushed heat through the floor vents. It was an unmistakable cracking and snapping sound, accompanied by a cozy coal smell, which made it sound like the cold was actually “breaking”. The question about whether the man was a widow is easily answered by two references – one, “no one ever thanked him” and the other, “the chronic angers of that house” – he is clearly living in an unhappy marriage. “Chronic angers” uses, again, a great economy of words to perfectly convey the constant quibbling, sniping, and griping that chronically undermines a bad marriage. The child wouldn’t “fear” these angers unless they were between two adults – thus his father is definitely NOT a widow. His father’s unhappy marriage also makes sense of the last line: “love’s austere and lonely offices”. We must all face austere “offices” (used in the monastic sense of obligatory prayers said at various times during the day) – in this case, obligatory tasks that a man does out of love, even when he is lonely and unappreciated in his own home. His father’s uncomplaining sacrifice made a prayer out of these simple, thankless tasks. William Wordsworth said, “The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” These are the best portion of Hayden’s father’s life.

  • Jerry Buckley (3/22/2010 4:44:00 PM)

    I will leave the discussions to you guys, and just say Wow.....great poem in all respects.....see how it generates discussion on this website! !

  • Gabe Satal (2/15/2010 6:50:00 PM)

    you have forgotten to taken in account that the title of the poem is Those Winter Sundays
    his father gets up early to heat the house, and when he is talking about 'polishing his good shoes' is possibly for church considering it is Sunday and that is also a likely reason for his father to call him to get dressed. and i also agree that he regrets not respecting his father and so on as a main point in the poem.

  • Hea Chicklacko (1/20/2010 1:31:00 PM)

    stanza 1; establishes the subject; the speakers father.
    it is focussing upon the fathers suffering and how the father is sacrificing everything, and how he got up early to heat the house up, and work for his family. also the last line is saying is saying that the speaker never acknowleged his fathers actions.
    stanza 2; once warmth is achieved the father calls his son to rise and get dressed, it is also mentioning the chronic angers of the house.
    3rd stanza; begins with an image of the fathers rough hands, as a hard working man, but the speaker never really respected his father. speaker also admits his ignorance over the simple love for his father.

  • Larry Laush (12/7/2009 8:13:00 AM)

    Tom: I think you have good general ideas for what you think the theme of the poem is but you need to have support for why you think that those may be the themes. I think the theme of the poem is that the poet didn’t appreciate his father as a kid and now realizes that he should’ve thanked him. In line five, it says “No one ever thanked him.” The father made the house warm and polished the poet’s shoes. Lines 13 and 14 show that he knows that he should’ve thanked his father. As you see I gave support for my general idea of what I think the theme is and that’s what you should do next time too. -Devin

  • Larry Laush (12/7/2009 7:51:00 AM)

    Sparkle: I have to disagree with you. This poem is not a very nice poem for many reasons. For example, this is not the best poem that I have ever read because it talks about regret of his choices when the author was young. This is showing no respect for the father polishing the child’s shoes and getting them ready. Also as a child, he was “speaking indifferent to him” (his father) . Here the reader can see that there is not much compassion or love from the boy to the father. Finally this poem is written nicely, but it is hard to understand, and it almost is depressing to think that someone would not appreciate their father for who he is and what he does for his family. This is why I disagree with you, and that “Those Winter Sundays” deals with much regret. - Jacob

  • Larry Laush (12/7/2009 7:19:00 AM)

    Miss Brunette: I agree with your statement about the poem “Those Winter Sundays” for many reasons. First, I also agree with your saying with how the reader doesn’t have enough information to determine whether the father is widowed or single. I also agree that the son didn’t appreciate the father’s work until line 13 and 14. Finally, I think the poem could have been better if in the end of the story the poet could have added that the son went up to his father and thanked him for all the hard work his father had been doing. Loren

  • Larry Laush (12/7/2009 7:15:00 AM)

    Miss Brunette: I have to say that I do agree with you for most of your reasons. I agree because when you say he worked every Sunday, but no one ever thanked him because in the real poem it said, “No one ever thanked him” of what he did. I also agree with you because it does show that the child never knew what the father’s work ethic was. I also agree with you because the father dedicated his life to his family. Denzel: I do disagree when you say that the father is single or widowed because it has nothing to do with the poem. In conclusion, I believe that the son didn’t appreciate his father. Maddy

  • Larry Laush (12/7/2009 7:09:00 AM)

    Denzel: I don’t believe that you are not right about this poem for many reasons. The first reason, why I think you are wrong is in the poem there is not enough information to prove that the father is a widow or single. It says “What did I know, what did I know.” This is saying how he regrets not thanking his dad when he did things for him. The second reason, why you are incorrect is on the last line it says “Of love’s austere and lonely offices.” This means that the father did things for the boy and the boy didn’t appreciate what his father was doing for him. The final reason why you are incorrect is on line 10 it says “Speaking indifferently to him.” This means he talked to his father without any concern. In conclusion, the boy did not respect what his father did for him or appreciate the consequences he made for the boy until he got older. Brock

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