Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden (1913-1980)
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 splitering, 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?
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Robert Hayden (1913-1980) was appointed the Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, the first African American to hold that influential office. In 1941, he embraced the Baha’i Faith. According to one (non-Baha’i) critic, his poetry reflects the “compassionate moral courage of that creed”.
His poem “Those Winter Sundays” has the distant, reflective tone of an adult, perhaps now a father or a mother. The repetition of “what did I know” in the second last line accentuates the child’s powerlessness to understand the adult world and the subtle use of “too” in the opening sentence underscores the father’s unacknowledged sacrifice.