“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden
Relations between fathers and their children often become the reason for children’s resentment towards fathers. In his poem “Those Winter Sundays”, Robert Hayden speaks of this complicated problem. He does not only express his complex feelings about his father but also shares his conclusions regarding the causes of the father-children problem.
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“Those Winter Sundays” is also remarkable for its practical lessons, which it offers to readers with the purpose of helping them avoid bitter feelings as a result of family problems. The following paper aims at making an explication of “Those Winter Sundays” poem by Robert Hayden. Overall, the analysis of the poem suggests a conclusion that although its tone is generally sad in most of its lines, which represents the narrator’s feelings of resentment and regrets towards his father, the final part of this poem demonstrates the shift of mood to symbolize the change in the speaker’s attitude to his father.
First, the analysis of the first very title suggests a conclusion that the narrator’s memories of childhood are rather gloomy. The poet’s sad tone in the title is evident from the use of the word “winter”, which impels cold, gloomy, and dark thoughts. Besides, an interesting fact is that Hayden uses the word “those” in the title. This word suggests a picture from the past, which repeated again and again to create an unforgettable image and leave its indelible trace in the heart of the speaker. Finally, another remarkable detail in the title of this poem is the word “Sundays”. The implication of this word is reminding of childhood memories of the narrator. Sundays are family days in most families, which parents and children spend together to have a good time, explore the world, make new revelations, and further unite bonds of love in the family. However, the poet combines such a meaningful word with the other two words having a negative explication.
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This fact leaves no doubt about the fact that the speaker is highly resentful about his childhood. Further examination of the poem under consideration will explain that such resentfulness comes from the narrator’s bad relations with his father, which demonstrate a great measure of cold and distance (Gallagher 1993).
Author's Idea in the Title
Addressing the first stanza of the poem, the readers will find an explanation to the combination of words with gloomy implications in the title of the poem and the author’s idea behind it. In the five initial lines, rhyme is absent. This use of prosaic tone is the technique, which Hayden implements to create a special setting in the poem. This setting is definitely negative; it reminds the audience about the popular expression “the prose of existence”, and its main idea that life is full of undesirable occurrences. In the opening line “Sundays too my father got up early”, the poet introduces his father by saying that even on Sundays he started his working schedule early (Meyer, 2012, p. 864).
This line shows that the narrator is not pleased by his father’s way of living since he says “too” and calls him “father”, but not Daddy or Papa. This is a hint showing that the father was a man of a pedant character, and roused cold and formal emotions in his son’s heart. The speaker also says: “with cracked hands that ached from labor” (Meyer, 2012, p. 864). This adds details about the father’s character and personality, depicting him as a hard worker, a man of minor income, and a “blue collar”. Thus, a rather negative picture of the father’s character appears in the minds of readers from the very first lines of the poem.
Further, in the next stanza, Hayden only adds to the sadness of the poem’s tone. The following lines demonstrate this tendency:
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house (Meyer, 2012, p. 864).
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In this stanza, the readers may feel the atmosphere in the speaker’s house through the use of such words and expressions as “the cold splintering, breaking”, “fearing”, and “the chronic angers of that house”. These words show that the father’s efforts to care for his family members do not result into a positive outcome since the atmosphere is still chilly and full of anger and pain.
Lastly, in the final stanza, the sadness of the speaker’s tone is still observed in the words “speaking indifferently” and “cold”, but the two final lines “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” show a shift in the mood and tone (Meyer, 2012, p. 864). This means that when the narrator becomes an adult, he comes to realize his father’s struggles, and starts viewing him in a different light. The final lines of the poem have an important lesson to offer to the audience. The poet is trying to say that despite the fact that many fathers fail to pay enough attention to their children, they do so because of their difficult economic situation. Fathers just do no know how to cope with their family responsibilities. Therefore, children should not think that they are not loved and valued.
In conclusion, in his expressive poem “Those Winter Sundays”, Robert Hayden speaks about the issues that are often rife in fathers-sons relations. His tone is mostly negative, sad, and regrettable through the whole narration, but in the final lines it shifts to a positive one, which suggests that the speaker changes his idea of his father when he becomes an adult.