Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden

(p. 31) “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?

This poem does such a good job—all the B and D and K sounds keep it sounding stiff and cold and labored—the sounds don’t flow, they jerk and stop and start, just like trying to get a fire started on a cold, unhappy morning. And the insight—this is what love is: driving out the cold, polishing the shoes of unappreciative teenage sons. I can see the grown son now sadly shaking his head as he tells us this poem,“What did I know, what did I know . . .” and then the very formal, beutiful language of that last line: "of love's austere and lonely offices" in contrast with the everyday words earlier. This is a poem I’ve long loved.

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