Poetry 111: Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden


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?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

One thought on “Poetry 111: Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

  1. For me, this poem evokes strongly memories of my own father, and of the home in which I grew up during the 1939-1945 war and lived in until 1956 when I left home aged 18.

    It was an era of freezing cold bedrooms and toilets, chilblained feet, a single coal fire lit each morning (the smell of coal and ‘drawing’ the fire with a tin plate). And polished lace-up boots – boys always wore boots except for ‘best’, and sandals with buckles in summer, or bare feet.

    Ours was also an angry home, and I can relive the anxious uncertainty of the writer as a child getting up and dressed to who knows what, who knows why, who knows where responsibility lies for making things all right, but it must somehow be me.

    So a wave of sadness passes over me, or through me, and I welcome that because most times I feel nothing. Sadness is sweet and wholesome to me. My father always polished our boots and taught me to do the same. I learned that this is what good fathers do. I don’t know that his cleaning shoes was an act of love; I don’t think mine was, it was an imitative act, perhaps unthinkingly so, except as an assumption of ideological dutifulness. My anger was, I think, similarly imitative, and its effect on my own children much the same, perhaps worse. Although I sometimes thought (perhaps) my own children should be happy, I should try to be different, I didn’t know how to be different, and my efforts at trying made matters worse, because the unthinking non-reflective effort depleted my energies, and set up conflict that I had no way of resolving.

    At least, I think, I have belatedly understood all that and can make amends, but there’s a great deal to make amends for, and I’ve only just begun, and uncertainly. I may never know, and that not-knowing is important in the greater scheme of things only in that it supplies a daily incentive to continue on the path of integration.

    The verses are well written and the construction and cadences are aesthetically very satisfying to me in fulfilling the purpose for which I feel they were written, to share the poignancy of loss and of unspoken sentiment. The opening line, and the conversational tone, suggests a fragment in a longer reminiscence about the writer’s father, delivered as if to an intimate friend or partner, as an act of trust.

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