Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Year
Winter Sundays" is a fourteen-line lyric poem in free verse. It was first
published in 1962.
"Those Winter Sundays," an adult speaker presents memories of how his father
expressed love for him through his actions. In particular, the speaker
remembers that his father rose very early on Sunday mornings to stoke the
furnace fire. Only when the house was warm did he awaken his son to dress.
12 notes that the father also polished his son's "good shoes," indicating
that he will be taking or sending his son to church. (Where else would
a child wear his "good shoes" on Sunday but to church?) Thus, the father
takes seriously the moral upbringing of his boy. The phrase "chronic angers"
in line 9 is open to interpretation. It could mean that sternly scolds
his son from time to time or that arguments are commonplace in the household.
It seems clear, though, that he is a good father. He accomplishes his Sunday
tasks with aching, skin-cracked hands subjected during the week to the
fierce cold he endures on the job.
adult speaker regrets now that he never took the time to thank his father
for his concern and love.
Hayden enables the reader to picture the cold in the home of the poem's
speaker. It is "blueblack," like a frozen cadaver. Ascribing color to a
feeling (coldness) is a figure of speech called synesthesia.
trope is only one of the rhetorical tricks the author employs in "Those
Winter Sundays." Another is the use of short words containing hard consonants
, speaking) to emphasize
the hardness of life for the speaker's father. In line 6, splintering
and breaking aptly suggest the sound of wooden floors reacting to
temperature and humidity changes. There is an implied metaphor here that
compares the sounds of the house to the sounds of ice breaking up.
simplicity of Hayden's style contrasts sharply with the pretentious opacity
of many modern poems in free verse.
dominant figure of speech in the poem is alliteration, as in the following
put his clothes
on in the blueblack
labor in the
fires blaze (line 5)
the rooms were warm
chronic angers of that house (line
driven out the cold (line 11)
austere and lonely
offices (line 14)
the father stokes the furnace fire, he is also stoking the fire of love
for his son and any other family members in the house. The warmth of the
coal fire becomes the warmth of the love that radiates throughout the house.
line 5, the speaker says no one ever thanked his father for the sacrifices
he made. Then, in the final stanza, the speaker expresses regret for "speaking
indifferently" to his father and says that as he was growing up he was
ignorant of "love's austere and lonely offices."
the poem contains no end rhyme, it does contain internal rhyme, as in the
and put his clothes
on in the blueblack cold
in the weekday weather made
fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold
and slowly I
would rise and dress (line 8)
to him (line 10)
here to see a reproduction of the copyrighted poem, printed with permission
by the Poetry Foundation.
are examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions of figures
of speech, see Literary Terms.
What did I know,
what did I know (line 13)
in the weekday weather made (line 4)
I’d wake and hear
the cold splintering, breaking.
Comparison of the cold
to a solid object that can splinter and break
and put his clothes
on in the blueblack cold (line 2)
Questions and Writing Topics
Use of color (blueblack)
to describe a feeling (coldness)
Write an informative essay about
Robert Hayden and his poetry.
Write a free-verse poem about
a member of your family.
What is your interpretation
of chronic angers in the following quotation from the poem: "I would
rise and dress, / fearing the chronic angers of that house."