The poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden is about an adult reflecting on memories of how his father expressed love for him through his actions. The speaker remembers that his father rose very early on Sunday mornings to start his day, beginning with stoking the furnace fire. This poem expresses the definition of love from a father’s perspective and how love doesn’t always present itself in a friendly and warm form. The author using a precise form of diction and imagery to emphasize the way the father expressed his love towards his son. In line 2, the words “blueblack cold” feature to show that the experience the father had to undergo in preparing for his household’s rising was not pleasant. Despite the biting cold, the father would endure this discomfort for the sake of his family’s comfort. This illustrates the selfless nature of the father. In addition, he did all these with “cracked hands that ached” (line 3). This implies that this experience was taxing to the man’s health. Nevertheless, he unquestioningly and selflessly bore this burden humbly.
This line pensively illustrates that he was not only ready to bear the cold of the morning but also the pain in his hands for the sake of his family’s well-being. Stanza 2 begins with the speaker’s personal experience of the transition between cold and warmth. The author says he would wake up to hear “the cold splintering, breaking” (Line 6). The choice of words in this line paints the scene vividly. The words “splintering, breaking” makes the situation not only visible in the reader’s mind but also audible. This reinforces the torturous conditions this man bore every morning for the sake of his family. Hayden uses the word “cold” in this line to symbolize the household’s demeanor towards the man. The fact that no one appreciated his efforts could only make the cold mornings more miserable. Additionally, this line metaphorically reveals the relationship between the father and the son over time—how it transitioned from cold to warm. Initially, the speaker was indifferent to his father’s subtle expressions of love.
However, as he grows older he begins to take note of how much his father is sacrificing for his sake. In line 7, the speaker mentions warmth in the rooms. Other than symbolizing absence of cold, Hayden’s choice of words in this line illustrates the speaker’s inability to realize his father’s affection. His gestures of love perhaps made the house more hospitable despite the ‘chronic angers’ the speaker mentions in line 9. The father took it upon himself to ensure that the house was at least hospitable before waking his son. The fact that the speaker would wake up “slowly” (line 8) indicates the father was caring enough not to rush his child out of bed. This act of kindness is yet another illustration of how the father showed loved to the speaker.
This poem is a description of a father’s selfless love for his son who is young and oblivious to this love. It points to the speaker’s naïve expectations of how love can be expressed. It is only after the son grows older that he is able to look back and remorsefully remember how he was unappreciative of his father’s love. The son is kind of rebuking himself for not having returned his father’s kind gesture in any way, other than with the indifference he showed. Hayden uses this poem to illustrate that love can be expressed in various ways. It also subtly emphasizes the importance of showing appreciation for love received.