Love of the parents tends to be appreciated after a long period of time, sometimes when it is too late. Those Winter Sundays is a poem by Robert Hayden, in which he describes the relationship between a father and his son. The writing is made from the son’s perspective, where he recalls and appreciates how his father showed love, even though it initially appeared to be distant and cold. The author illustrates how a child can be ignorant of the ways one can express his or her love. The analysis will focus on key elements of the poem in each stanza as well as two-directional symbolisms.
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In the first stanza, the main focus is on the father of the narrator, where he describes how the given individual took care of his family and expressed his love. The first two lines state: “Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blue-black cold” (Hayden). The narrator explains how his father sacrificed his sleep and comfort of the bed in order to be first on the feet. The main symbols in the poem are cold and warmth, which indicates both the general temperature within the house and the relationship between the two main characters. The second line is designed to show that the father woke up when it was dark and cold, which further confirms his commitment to the family (Cengage Learning Gale, p. 3). The next two lines state: “then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made” (Hayden). There a reader can observe other key symbols of ache and cracked hands, which indicate that the father was a mere worker without any luxuries of life. This also means that the given individual was working hard to provide for his family. The last sentence states: “No one ever thanked him” (Hayden). There a reader can see how the son shows his first sign of appreciation and recognition of the father’s love.
Furthermore, the second stanza primarily focuses on the son, and this shift allows readers to understand how the narrator used to see his father. The first two lines state: “I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call” (Hayden). The narrator is making an attempt to show the contrast of weather conditions inside and outside of the house. As soon as the son wakes up, he recognizes that the warmth of the house is due to the efforts made by the father because the weather was cold. The following lines state: “and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house” (Hayden). The key component of these lines is fear and anger, which indicates that the son did not use to love his father but rather felt fear towards him. This also shows that the father did not express his love towards the narrator directly, but through his actions, a reader can see that he loves the son.
Moreover, the third stanza’s main theme is regret and late appreciation of fatherly love. The first three lines state: “Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well.” (Hayden). The given lines illustrate how the son treated his father by being indifferent and ignorant of his efforts. The narrator can appreciate and see how the father showed more love by polishing the shoes and warming the house. The following lines state: “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” (Hayden). This is the moment when the narrator is the most regretful of his past attitude towards his father. The son admits that he was highly ignorant and did not fully appreciate the fatherly love, which is not explicit and comes in the form of actions.
In addition, there is a two-directional symbolism in the poem, which starts from cold and goes to warmth. It can be seen that the most evident directional symbolism of the stanzas is in-house temperature. An artistic symbol is a universal category of aesthetics that is best disclosed through comparison with related categories of an image, on the one hand, and a sign, on the other. Understanding the words broadly, it can be argued that a symbol is an image taken in the aspect of its sign and that it is a sign endowed with the emotions and the sacrifice of the poem. Every symbol is an image, but if the category of the image assumes an objective identity to itself, then the category of the symbol emphasizes the other side of the same essence. Beginning from the first stanza and moving to the last one, a reader can observe that the overall condition within the house gets warmer and more comforting. The first stanza shows how cold and unwelcoming the house and surrounding. The second stanza demonstrates that there is an improvement in term of temperature. The last stanza is filled with the highest amount of comfort, where the house is no longer cold, shoes are polished, and probably other undescribed improvements were made
Nevertheless, the directional symbolism can be seen in reverse, where initial stanzas are filled with warmth and the last stanza ends with cold. In order to observe such directional symbolism, the perspective needs to be put on the narrator. In the first stanza, he is filled with love and appreciation towards his father, and thus, describes how the parent sacrificed his weekends and sleep to take care of the family. In the second stanza, the first signs of coldness in son’s attitude can be seen, where he would fear the angers rather than being grateful for the warmth. The last stanza is the coldest in terms son’s lack of appreciation of the fatherly love. In this poem, a symbol is an imprint or manifestation of an internally experienced experience of a father and son. It can be stated that the author saw in the symbol of heat and cold a certain existential semantic absolute, to which approaches are equally possible and equally insufficient, both from the side of traditional philosophical epistemology and from ontology.
Therefore, the main topic of the poem can be related to anyone, because children tend to lack the ability to understand and appreciate fatherly love fully. It is stated that the impact of father’s love and his mere presence in the family can have a drastic impact on child’s future prospects, whether the child is a male or female (Wakerman and Barrett, p. 5). However, it is evident that children are most likely to dismiss or disregard the significance of a father in their lives. The poem succeeds in delivering its message due to symbolism usage. The main purpose of the symbol is to take the image beyond its own limits, in the presence of a certain meaning, intimately merged with the image, but not identical to it. The object image and the deep meaning appear in the structure of the symbol as two poles, inconceivable one without the other because the meaning loses its manifestation outside the image, and the image falls apart into meaning out of its components. However, divorced from each other and causing tension between themselves, which is the essence of the symbol. Turning into a symbol, the image becomes transparent, and the meaning shines through it, being given precisely as a semantic depth, a semantic perspective, requiring a difficult entry into oneself.
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In conclusion, it important to note that the main theme of the poem is unnoticed fatherly love, which gets appreciated only later on. The narrator uses the first stanza to describe how the father sacrificed his weekends and sleep to bring warmth to the house. The second stanza shows how the son did not show love reciprocity, but rather fear. The last stanza further illustrates how fatherly love manifests itself in small actions and not explicit words. In addition, one can observe two-directional symbolism within the poem, which can be seen either through the perspective of the in-house comfort and the son’s attitude towards the father. In the first case, the house starts cold but gets warmer and more comforting as the poem progresses. In the second case, the son’s appreciation begins warm, but the later stanzas show the coldness in his past actions towards his father, such as fear and indifference.
- Cengage Learning Gale. A Study Guide for Robert E. Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”. Gale Study Guides, 2017.
- Hayden, Robert. Those Winter Sundays. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1985.
- Wakerman, Elyce, and Holly Barrett. Father Loss: Daughters Discuss Life, Love, and Why Losing a Dad Means So Much. Yucca, 2015.