Parents often have the desire to give to their children no matter how much pain it brings to themselves. In Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays,” the father does whatever is necessary to make his family comfortable. In the early morning he awakens to a cold house and rises to prepare a fire that will warm the house for the rest of the family. As the son grows older and matures, he realizes that he should have praised his father for the many sacrifices he has made in the past. Hayden uses imagery throughout the poem to enable the reader to sense the devotion of the father and the ungratefulness of the son.
In the early stages of the poem, Hayden creates the image of a caring, devoted father. The typical stereotype of a father is that of a man who is willing to work for his family. In the poem Hayden creates the same image by saying, “Sundays too my father got up early / and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold” (ll. 11-12).
The father cares so immensely for his family that he sacrifices his own comfort for them. Hayden mentions that he rises in the “blueblack cold” to emphasize that the sun has not even begun to rise. The speaker further characterizes the father by saying that his “cracked hands that ached / from labor in the weekday weather made / banked fires blaze” (ll. 3-5).
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The father works every day in the harsh weather causing himself physical pain. Sunday mornings, ironically, are no exceptions because the duty of warming the house still remains. The first stanza ends with, “No one ever thanked him” (1. 5).
Everything he does for his family is out of love, not desire for gratification. The second stanza includes imagery of the father by mentioning that “[w]hen the rooms were warm, he’d call” (1. 7).
Again, the father shows his love for his family. He only calls them when the rooms are warm so that they will not have to brave the cold. Symbolically, this line suggests that the father’s love has warmed the rooms for his family. Images of the father in the third stanza include Hayden’s description of the father “[driving] out the cold / and [polishing] [the son’s] good shoes as well” (ll. 12-13).
These lines show examples of things that the father has done for his son. Although the family does not require these things, the father’s love for them leads him to continue to carry out these duties. Just as Hayden uses images to convey the character of the father, he also creates an astonishing image of the son’s personality.
The images of the son convey the idea that he is ungrateful. The first description of him says, “and slowly I would rise and dress” (1. 8).
This shows his selfishness by pointing out his reluctance to get out of bed even though the house is warm – due to his father’s efforts. The speaker expresses his fear of “the chronic angers of that house” (1. 9).
The “chronic angers” represent the father. Ironically, the father is angry because he feels that no one ever understands his acts of love; therefore, his family feels unloved, and they never show him any love. The third stanza begins with the speaker stating that he would speak “indifferently to him” (l. 10).
The father and son both want the other to love him; however, the lack of communication between them hides their true feelings. The son feels anger towards his father for not loving him – causing him to speak indifferently to him – when in all actuality the father is feeling the same about his son. Hayden ends his poem by saying, “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?” (ll. 13-14).
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In these lines the speaker is expressing his ignorance as a child. Only when it is too late does he realize that his father was showing his love by sacrificing things for his family.
Hayden’s effective use of imagery allows the reader to gain a unique understanding of the poem through descriptions of character and atmosphere. By describing the father’s efforts to show his love and the son’s inability to realize that the father is showing love, the speaker brings the reader’s emotions into play. Hayden reveals the theme of the poem – lack of communication can often cause the most valuable parts of life to be overlooked – by leading the reader to realize the speaker’s pain. The reader is able to identify this pain only through the poet’s effective use of imagery.