An Old Regret: Analyzing “Those Winter Sundays

Robert Hayden described the relationship between his father and younger self in his poem “Those Winter Sundays.” Robert Hayden grew up in a poor neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. Since his parents left him with family friends, he grew up with that family and didn’t know his real name until he was forty years old. Hayden also taught at a couple universities and published several of his collections of poetry throughout his lifetime; written retrospectively, this particular poem is about his “adopted father” and the relationship between the two of them. Hayden, the speaker of the poem, regrets how he treated his father as he grew up. Despite the father’s hard work and efforts to show his love, Hayden failed to appreciate and recognize this man’s gestures.

Hayden’s father endeavored to be the diligent caretaker that every family desires. In the poem, the speaker explains that “Sundays too my father got up early” (1). This has implied that the father woke up early for work or to take care of business every day. Even on a worldly known day of rest, he awoke at dawn to be sure everything is completed that is required for that day. His father also worked often, and it is safe to assume that he gets up quite early for that as well. Hayden explains that he gets up before the house is warmed and “then with cracked hands that ached / from labor in the weekday weather made / banked fires blaze…”(3-5). Even after having several days of drudgery and pain in his hands, the father awoke to make the fire, allowing the house to be warm before his family leaves their slumber. It is evident, in these stark terms, that Hayden’s father cherished his family and showed them that love through providing.

The household as a whole often failed to thank the father for his efforts and care. In the poem, the speaker points out how much the father does for them in the first stanza. He ended that stanza with “No one ever thanked him” (5). This shows in literal terms that no one cared to thank him. The father worked hard to provide and loved them but was never recognized for what he did. Hayden also described his situation on Sunday mornings with “I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. / When the rooms were warm, he’d call, / and slowly I would rise and dress” (6-8). He knew that his father got up early to warm the house for the family, but he did not appreciate what was done. It was written that he continually was “speaking indifferently to him,” despite the father treating Hayden special (10). The father made the house warm and polished his shoes and worked hard all week but it was never recognized from Hayden or the rest of the family.

When looking back to the past, Hayden regrets the way he treated his father. He wrote this poem to acknowledge that and wishes he had recognized the love his father provided. In the poem he writes that he always treated him poorly and it is implied that he was not appreciative of his motives. In the poem, regret emerges in Hayden’s final words: “What did I know, What did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices” (13-14). He chose those words to show that he wishes he could change his ignorance from the past. The word austere shows the dark somber that his father may have felt from never being thanked. If Hayden could go back to his younger self, he would have treated his father as special and been grateful for what he had done for him and the rest of the family.

Unfortunately, Hayden can not reverse the distant relationship he caused with his father, but he instead tells readers this story. He wants to prevent others from having the same issues with their own parents. It is vital to recognize when people put forth effort, express gratitude toward them, and accept others’ way of showing love. There are people few and far between who strive to provide for their family and friends. It is apparent that Hayden wants us to learn from his mistakes and listen to the advice he gives through the subtleties of “Those Winter Sundays.”

Hayden, Robert. “Those Winter Sundays.” Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readersand Writers. Sixth Edition. edited by John Schilb and John Clifford. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015. p. 263.

Parenting and Poetic Technique in “My Father’s Song” by Simon J. Ortiz and “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

The poem “My Father’s Song” is based on the wisdom and values, as well as traditions passed from old generation to new one. The speaker uses his life experience between him and his father to depict the variation of values and traditions between the old and new generation. In emphasizing his theme, the writer has used repetition of specific phrases, as well as using simple wording to make it livelier. On the other hand, the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Hayden explores the relationship between a parent and his child. He goes on to present the experiences of this relationship including love, misunderstanding, hate, and admiration. The poems “Those Winter Sundays” and “My Father’s Song” are focused on expressing the relationship between father and son, and on developing differing levels of closeness between these figures through deviations in the poetic techniques employed.

Parenting styles and their effects on the child are themes explored by both of these poems. In essence, parenting is a critical aspect which plays a huge role in influencing the role which the child will play in the society upon growing up. Consequently, the bonds which children establish their relationships determine their social interaction with the society. The poems, “Winter Sundays” and “My Father’s song” are about the authors remembering their father and how they related with them. They then go on to showcase the consequences of this relationship in their attitudes and general life. Accordingly, the authors of these poems reflect back on the lives of their fathers and remembering past events while relating them to their lives. In “Those Winter Sundays” the narrator reflects on the sacrifices made by his father for him and the entire family, but of which were not appreciated. The narrator in the poem does not have a special or intimate relationship with his father. As a young boy, he used to fear his father to the extent that he could not relate to him freely. Subsequently, this kind of relationship affected the narrator’s social aspects as he could not form a strong social bond with him. In other words, he did not welcome his presence.

The kind of boy child- relationship exhibited in “My Father’s Song” is quite different from that of “Those Winter Sundays”. In particular, the narrator in the former poem is closer to his father and is free to communicate with him in matters concerning the family as depicted in the context “my father was speaking things to me”. This is an indication that the father was giving advice to his child and interacting with him on important issues affecting him and the society. The father was informing his child on the things he needed to know when he grows. The narrator further explained the oral traditions of his culture to his son as he considered this part of his obligations. However, the voice of the father is not directly relayed; but instead, it’s ingrained in the song, experience, and actions.

In these poems, both of the authors have employed literary devices to express the theme. However, despite both poems expressing the relationship between son and father, the authors have employed different figurative language, tone, and imagery. In “Those Winter Sundays” the tone used is a bit harsh while in “My Father’s Song” the reflective and humble tone is depicted in the word choices which the author uses. For instance, in the first stanza, the speaker vividly remembers the voice of his father. His description of the experience is as follows: “I am deeply missing my father today, His voice is the best ever, I am longing for his thin chest, I am overwhelmed by emotions, When he is speaking to me as his son” (Ortiz 2-7) On the contrary, “Those Winter Sundays” as a completely different tone as depicted in the following lines drawn from stanza two: “I could wake up only to hear the breaking, and cold splintering, He would call when the rooms were warm, I would slowly rise to dress, With fear of that house’s unceasing anger” (Hayden 22’ 1-4) What this means is that the narrator was not at all comfortable at the house and that he feared the voice of his father. This is why when he called; he could do the necessary, which is dressing because he feared his father.

Both “My Father’s Song” and “Winter Sundays” express a reflection of the relationship between father and son and the outcome of these relationships on their personality and attitude. However, the experiences narrated in these poems are quite different. In “My Father’s song” there is a communication, and love between the child and his father. The father loves not only his son, but also his family unconditionally. This is a different case with the relationship on the “Those Winter Sundays” whereby: the father is unable to neither express his love nor communicate with his son and family. This is an important lesson to today’s parents on the implications of their parenting styles on the perception and future of their children. Therefore, the two poems can be used to complement one another in themes regarding the effective parenting styles.

Works Cited

Ortiz, Simon. “My Father’s Song”, 1976. Available from https://mgdenikegannon.weebly.com/uploads/6/0/3/1/60313901/my_fathers_song_simon_ortiz.pdf Hayden, Robert. Those Winter Sundays, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1985. Available from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46461/those-winter-sundays