Those Winter Sundays

Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” resonates with the remembrance of ungrateful youth. All the boy could recognize is that he had to get up early, probably to go to Church when he didn’t want to, fearful of angering his father, sullen because of that fear and the ache of not being able to do whatever he wanted. Such is often the story of youth. But the grown man looks back on it differently, aware of the toll it took on his father, the sacrifice in body and spirit he made to provide for his family, the care he extended unthinkingly and un-thanked in doing what needed to be done.

In just three short stanzas Hayden captures something that many of us have experienced: the ignorance of youth which is sullen precisely because it is ignorant, and the possibility – though possibility only – that one might one day perceive with belated gratitude “love’s austere and lonely offices.”

Thank you, Dad.

And Happy Father’s Day, all.


“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, from Collected Poems, 1966.