Those Winter Sundays Historical Context/Info about Author: Robert Hayden grew up in a poor African-American section of Detroit known as Paradise Valley. At a young age, his parents separated and his mother could no longer afford to keep him so he was sent to live with a foster family. His adoptive father was a strict Baptist and manual laborer and while he was a stern man, he always attempted to care for and nurture Hayden’s love of literature. Summary:
The poem, composed in 1962, is a tribute to Hayden’s stepfather in an effort to express both his gratitude for all the hard work he had done for him as well as the regret that he feels for not appreciating him more during his lifetime. The poem’s power is emphasized through the technique of using flashbacks from his childhood and juxtaposing them against the knowledge and newfound respect he now has as a man. This short, simple poem touches on topics such as family relationships, coming of age, and sacrifice for loved ones.
Literary Devices Used: Symbolism & Imagery – Those Winter Sundays has many symbols and imagery that are well utilized in order to convey Hayden’s message. He refers to his stepfathers “cracked hands”, which in this case, is used to symbolize the hard work this father was willing to go through for the love of his family. Another symbol present in the poem is his “polished good shoes” which is another symbol used to express the indirect nature of a fathers love.
Even though he was strict and withdrawn he would take the time to make sure that his son would have a better life than he had. Syntax/Structure- In order to emphasize the labored existence of his father, the author repeatedly uses the “c” sound, which kind of adds the element of pain. Examples of this alliteration include, cracked, banked, thanked, and chronic. The overall structure of the poem also attributes to the underlying tone. It is constructed very simply which may help to express the simplicity of the love between a father and son.
They did not lead an extravagant lifestyle and his father didn’t do go out of his way in order to show affection towards his son, but the point was he did what needed to be done even if it was hard, without calling for any appreciation and that was enough to show his love for his family. The poem also ends with a rhetorical question, “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? which helps to show the regret and change in heart the man has had through his own personal growth.
Tone- the poem’s tone shifts in the beginning from a cold, harsh tone to a warmer comforting tone by the seventh line. Although by line nine the poem’s tone shifts again to a negative uncomfortable tone. The cold, harshness of the tone described in the first stanza reflects through the coldness of the house, the Father’s cracked achy hands and the fact that no one has ever thanked him. This fluctuation of tone indicates the uncertainty the son feels about his father and whether or not he truly does care for him, which of course as a man he realizes he always had.
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