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Those Winter Sundays
By Robert Hayden (1913-1980)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Summary of the Poem
Language
Themes
Internal Rhyme
Text of the Poem
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Biography of Hayden
Index of Study Guides
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2011
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Type of Work and Publication Year

......."Those Winter Sundays" is a fourteen-line lyric poem in free verse. It was first published in 1962.

Summary

.......In "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. 
.......Line 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. 
.......The adult speaker regrets now that he never took the time to thank his father for his concern and love. 

Language and Style

.......Robert 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
.......This 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 (clothes, blueblack, cold, cracked, ached, weekday, banked, thanked, wake, breaking, call, chronic , 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. 
.......The simplicity of Hayden's style contrasts sharply with the pretentious opacity of many modern poems in free verse. 
.......The dominant figure of speech in the poem is alliteration, as in the following lines:

put his clothes on in the blueblack cold (line 2)
labor in the weekday weather (line 4)
banked fires blaze (line 5)
When the rooms were warm (line 7)
the chronic angers of that house (line 9)
who had driven out the cold (line 11)
love’s austere and lonely offices (line 14)
Themes

Love

.......When 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. 

Regret

.......In 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."

Internal Rhyme

.......Although the poem contains no end rhyme, it does contain internal rhyme, as in the following lines. 

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold (line 2)
from labor in the weekday weather made (line 4)
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. (line 5)
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. (line 6)
and slowly I would rise and dress (line 8)
Speaking indifferently to him (line 10)
 


Text of the Poem

.......Click here to see a reproduction of the copyrighted poem, printed with permission by the Poetry Foundation.

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Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.

Alliteration

See Language.
Anaphora
What did I know, what did I know (line 13)
Assonance
from labor in the weekday weather made (line 4)
Metaphor
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
Comparison of the cold to a solid object that can splinter and break
Synesthesia
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold (line 2)
Use of color (blueblack) to describe a feeling (coldness)
 
Study Questions and Writing Topics
  • 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."

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