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Poetry Review: “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

12 February 2011

In this coldest of winters, “Those Winter Sundays” has come often to my mind. That is the way of a good poem… it returns unbidden, yet never unwelcomed.

The key to Hayden’s poem lies in the sound of the consonants. At the beginning of the poem the consonants crack and pop like old houses in the winter night (“blueback,” “cracked,” “ache”) like burning wood. The consonant choices Hayden makes emphasize the meaning and mood of the poem.

In three short stanzas, Hayden takes a simple memory and makes it transcendent and universal: the selflessness of love, the regret of time, the dignity of duty.What makes this a good poem is Hayden’s marriage of tactile language and honest emotion and memory. What makes Hayden a good poet is that he is able to do this over and over.

This is one of Hayden’s better known poems, if indeed you can say that of any Hayden poem. It is certainly one of my favorites… and perfect for this time of year.


Those Winter Sundays

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?


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