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Those Winter Sundays


Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze.  No one ever thanked him.


I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,


Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

In his poem, Hayden gracefully depicts a moment in one’s life when they realize that they did not fully comprehend the love that was given through an act of service. The narrator of this poem is an adult who is reflecting back to their childhood, recollecting the ways in which they had not realized that love comes in many forms. In the first line, “Sundays too” gives the impression that the father worked endlessly, not only at his weekday job, but on Sundays too, when he chopped wood early in the morning to make sure his family stayed warm through the winter. In line 5, when the narrator says, “No one ever thanked him.” this lets the reader know that the father’s hard work was unappreciated. The previous sentence in the poem is long and drawn out, but this sentence is short and unemotional. This adds a harsh tone to the poem, creating the sense that the narrator condemns their past behavior by representing it in a harsh, short way.

In the last stanza, the narrator says, “Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well.” The narrator realizes how unfeeling it was of them to speak indifferently to their father after he had done so much for their family.

What did they know about love? About unconditional love? About the love that never falters, even when it is not appreciated? At the end of the poem, the narrator realizes that they should have been more caring towards their father. They realize that their father had expressed love to them in a way that they did not understand. Hayden’s use of austere as it relates to love in the context of this poem works beautifully with the message he is trying to send. When Hayden writes, “love’s austere” the reader can relate the harsh conditions of winter, to the strict manner in which the father’s love was shown. In the poem, it is apparent that the family lives their life under harsh conditions, a life without the comfort of luxuries. Love’s austere describes love as being ceaseless and matter-of-fact. The use of claiming love to have austere suggests that love itself is plain and ceaseless, much like the father. Thus, at the end of the poem, the narrator has realizes that their father is full of love or is even a representation of love itself.



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