Sunday, May 23, 2010

Those Winter Days, by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback 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?


This sonnet was written by Robert Hayden as a tribute to his foster father. The theme of the poem is revolves around his traumatic childhood. Witnessing fights and suffering beatings, Hayden lived in a house fraught with chronic angers whose effects would stay with the poet throughout his adulthood. On top of that, his severe visual problems prevented him from participating in activities such as sports in which nearly everyone was involved. But among all this hardship, his foster father gave him love and affection.

On that point, this poem also addresses Hayden's lack of appreciation for the love of his foster father, because when he was a child, he did not understand that love came in many ways, not only in kisses and hugs. This is summed up in the last stanza when he asks himself, "What did I know, what did I know of love's austere and lonely offices."
Key to this theme is also the line "Sundays too my father got up early", meaning that not only did his father work on the weekdays for the family, but also on what should have been his day of rest.

Like all sonnets, "Those Winter Days" is 14 lines and written in iambic pentameter. When there is no interruption of the meter of iambic pentameter, there is a sense of order in the poem. This is ironic as Hayden's childhood was chaotic and turbulent. The poem fits in well with my theme of childhood, because the poet is addressing his childhood and the love of his foster father. The entire poem except the last two lines is a synecdoche representing his foster father's love. For example, "cracked hands that ached from labor" represents how hard his foster father worked to support the family.

This poem, drawing from the poet's harsh experiences, is sincere and beautifully written. It captures the emotions of the poet growing up and brings the reader into his world.

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