The poem, which I selected for analyzing and interpreting, is “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. The question raised by the author has been attracting the readers for a long time, since it deals with a situation which most of people have experienced at least once in their lives. The author’s language and artistic devices by which he transmits the idea that people often pay little attention to good deeds and kind attitude especially when they has become a part of somebody’s routine leave a really strong impression, often making the reader stop and re-think his attitude towards some events in his or her life.
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In this poem the author recollects memories from his childhood, when his father rose before dawn to kindle the fire in order to warm their hose on winter morning. Hayden skillfully uses deep and powerful imagery to convey his emotions, not giving direct statements but letting the reader to surmise what was implied in the lines therefore making a bright and living picture of that event in his or her mind. “Those Winter Sundays” honors a much-criticized figure in American culture of the 1990s – the withdrawn, emotionally inexpressive and distant (and probably unhappy and angry) father. The poem makes its way towards perceiving the emotional life of such a man. The poem realizes love as it lived in such a man” (Goldstein and Chrisman 254).
Beginning with the phrase “Sundays too my father got up early” the author indicates that his father got up early not only on Sundays, but during the whole week also, thus giving the image of a hard-working man, who though having a day off gives up his opportunity to have a rest for the sake of his family. Hayden also emphasizes that the man has got “cracked hands that ached from labour in the weekday”, making the reader to feel a little more drama and sympathy for his father. Te author sums up the first stanza with a simple literal line “No one ever thanked him”, therefore accomplishing splendidly his image of a caring man who shows a real regard for his family every day, but no one appreciates that.
In the second stanza the speaker describes what he did, while his father performed his morning routine. The reader sees a little boy lying in his bed, reluctant to get up and waiting for the cold to stand away. The second line here also gives an important detail: “When the rooms were warm he’d call”, one more time showing the father’s regard for the boy. However, the last line of this stanza may seem a bit puzzling: “Fearing the chronic angers of that house”. Such a phrase may imply various meanings. Without knowing the background of this verse it is hard to judge about what the author meant by these words. Of course there is a possibility that “chronic angers” relate to the house itself and living in poverty the boy does not love his home. But knowing the author’s biography, especially the facts about his living in the atmosphere of fights and quarrels in the foster family, one can rather incline to the thought that the boy neither liked his house nor his father, therefore never noticing good qualities of his foster parent and care towards him even when they were displayed.
In the third stanza Hayden refers to one more sign of regard from his father “and polished my good shoes as well”. Along with that he gives his own respond to such situation: “Speaking indifferently to him”, thus admitting ungrateful ignorance from his own side. In the final lines of the third stanza the speaker asks a rhetorical question: “What did I know, what did I know/of love’s austere and lonely offices?” Hayden indicates that being a child he did not understand love often rather expresses itself indirectly, through help and care hidden in actions rather than through any kind of demonstrative expression such as words or embraces, which are commonly considered to be a real sign of love and care. One may suppose, that in his childhood, being a bit more selfish than now, like all children do and having little experience the speaker felt only negative energy that belonged to the house and paid no attention to his father’s effort to warm the house and polish the boy’s shoes. What is more the last two lines of the poem may also explain that the boy’s childhood was rather unhappy anyway, that is why he did not know much about love and was not able to appreciate it discerning it in his father’s routine.
Containing traditional fourteen lines, this verse is an example of a sonnet, though the lines lack a reliable rhythm. There still are some rhymes and near-rhymes but no rhyme scheme. Though one should not omit that fact that the sonnet was written at the time when free verse was really popular in the Anglo-American literature. A kind of hidden alliteration is also implied by Hayden, such as the ‘k’ sounds in the words ‘ached’,’cracked’, ‘blueback’ and so on. In some way it adds elements of pain to the general atmosphere of the verse, especially if one takes the phrase “cracked hands that ached”. Gradually, the ‘k’ sounds are replaced by the ‘o’ sounds, like in the words ‘good’, ‘shoes’, ‘know’, ‘love’, ‘offices’ etc. These drawling sounds evoke associations with love and loneliness. Therefore, along with the impression which the reader gained from the poem by reading the speaker’s narration of the event, the reader also perceives the same story by sonic means. “The noise of this poem moves us through its emotional journey from discomfort to lonely life” (Goldstein and Chrisman 252).
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The author establishes a pensive and regretful tone almost from the very beginning. Even the heading “Those Winter Sundays” evokes an image of cold and often cloudy days, therefore producing a feeling of sadness and melancholy. Hayden introduces cold and uncomfortable images, like “blueback cold” to strengthen the picture of undesirable conditions of the unheated house. Hayden aids the initial tone of regret by sharing with the reader an image of the father’s “cracked hands”. All these means help the reader to realize clearly the main idea of the poem. “The poem’s thesis is that the office of love can be relentless, thankless, and more than a little mysterious” (Goldstein and Chrisman 252).
All in all, this sonnet leaves a deep impression and induces to re-think the way in which we treat sometimes people who care for us. Therefore, one can learn a good lesson from it: there are times when a person simply does not see the love expressed indirectly, thus staying indifferent and ungrateful towards the person who does have a regard for him or her.
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