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?

Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays” from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Copyright ©1966 by Robert Hayden. Reprinted with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.
Source: Collected Poems of Robert Hayden (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1985)

Writing Ideas

1. Write a poem about one of your parents or grandparents. Think about the work they do every day, and describe one of their seemingly simple routines—doing laundry, for example. Like Hayden, try to use as many sense images as you can: how does their task sound to you? When do they do it?


2. “Those Winter Sundays” alternates between very concrete images, like “cracked hands that ached from labor,” and more abstract ones, like “the chronic angers of that house.” Think about the effect of the two kinds of images—what do you picture when you read the final line of the poem, for example? Try writing a poem that uses both concrete and abstract images to describe an event you remember, either from the distant or more recent past.

Discussion Questions

1. How does Hayden characterize the relationship between father and son in the poem? Try to find particular words that seem to suggest more than one meaning and think about how they contribute to both the literal and emotional world of the poem.


2. The poem features an adult speaker looking back on his childhood. What does the son feel about his father now, and what did he feel then? Try to find particular images in the poem that expose the difference in the speaker’s childhood and adult understanding of his father.


3. How does sound knit the poem together? Pick one sound—the hard “c” in “clothes,” for example—and trace it through the poem. Why would Hayden use so many of the same sounds in his poem? What do the sounds make you think of?


4. “Those Winter Sundays” ends with a rhetorical question. What is the effect of the poem’s final question? How do you feel about the speaker by the end of the poem?

Teaching Tips

1. Begin by having students create ad hoc sketches of the most striking or dominant image found in the three stanzas of the poem. Have them follow up their illustration with a discussion about the physical position of each of the human characters in their illustrations, considering how these emblematic images relate to the meaning of the poem.


2. Have students consider the dominant sounds in each stanza and look back on their sketches to see if they can detect patterns and variations among sounds, as they are associated with each character and with the larger meaning of the work.


3. After each activity, have students examine their findings and discuss the relationship between the father and son in this poem. Ask, how does Hayden depict the father’s relationship with his son? What seems to motivate each of these characters? How does the son reflect on his father’s actions at the moment he speaks this text?


4. Have students view the video animation of the poem, and discuss the animator’s choices, evaluating the selection of images and their connection to the text.

More Poems by Robert Hayden