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Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays” is filled with immense emotion. It is through examination of the lines and words a larger picture unfolds. Like most poetry, various interpretations of “Those Winter Sundays” are shaped and formulated due to its accessibility. Although each analysis carefully traces the poems lines and evaluates the meaning of words in the context, the end result is a skewed conclusion. Various interpretations of “Those Winter Sundays” formulate due to the accessibility of the poem. With a lack of concrete description and definition, much is to be assumed and formulated by the reader.
This drastic difference in analyses is seen in the conclusions drawn by Ann Gallagher and Jeannine Johnson. Gallagher concludes the poem is a childhood void of affections, whereas Jeannine Johnson sees a poem entailing love’s services. Although, Gallagher and Johnson put forth interesting analyses and support them heavily, the openness and duality of various words and phrases leave us without a concrete explanation or meaning.
I, have come to conclude, that due to Robert Hayden’s past experiences with abandonment and love and the duality in the meaning of various words, we are not able to find a concrete meaning to “Those Winter Sundays.
Gallagher’s analysis of the poem is an experience of a childhood void of affection. As one traces the lines of the poem it is evident to see why Gallagher formulated her specific analysis. The first section of this poem sets the character and personality of the father.
As the poem unfolds, this opening section puts in place the makeup and behavior of this non-loving father figure as one traces through the second and third sections. In the opening line of the poem Hayden states: “Sundays too my father got up early” (Hayden, 1). Sundays are usually thought as a day of rest.
However, the father in this poem is anything but lazy and wakes early. We could only see love through these actions, however, that is not the case as the poem continues to unravel. The concluding line of the first section states “no one ever thanked him” (Hayden, 5). Aside the instant feeling of disconnection felt in the line, one also comes to question why he was never thanked. Gallagher is also challenged by this thought as he states: “Why, for example, does it happen that “no one ever thanked him? ” We slowly become aware that it is not only the child who does not thank the hardworking father. “No one eve” did.
This then reflects on the person of the father” (Gallagher, 1). I too, ask myself these similar questions and find the answer to this within the poem. The second section of the poem begins to answer this lingering question and formulates the non-loving father figure and creates the absence of affection. The first line in the second stanza states: “I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking” (Hayden, 6). The splintering and breaking does not signify anything positive and the illusion of “the floors constantly groaning and creaking with discontent and bitterness” (Gallagher, 1) adds to the lack of affection.
With this lingering gloominess in mind, the writer then writes: “Slowly I would rise and dress,/fearing the chronic angers of that house” (Hayden, 8/9). One can draw the connection of the chronic angers of the house to the father due to the preceding line: “Speaking indifferently to him/who had drive out the cold” (Hayden, 10). “Because the speaker in the poem does not know when the angers will erupt in the house, he is constantly in a state of terror that makes him speak “indifferently to the father, even though, that father has warmed the house during the winter morning for the rising of his child” (Gallagher, 1).
Gallagher statement captures the fear and disconnection I felt earlier in the piece. It is clear the reason no one ever thanked the father, as seen in the opening stanza, is due to the fear he instills in them. These final lines make the vagueness of previous statements more clear. The chronic angers of the house derive from the father who although drives out the cold, still is the origin of fear and fury in the house. We can conclude with all these pieces in place, the negation of affection and love is present.
Due to the accessibility and nature of Hayden’s poem, other justifiable interpretations are available besides that of Gallagher’s. Jeannine Johnson comes to conclude a different idea than that of Gallagher. Johnson’s analyses states Hayden’s poem “honors the value of love’s simple, domestic services in our lives. ” (Johnson, 1) The establishment of this simple and domestic service quickly takes form in the first 3 lines of the poem. “Sundays too my father got up early/and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold/then with cracked hands that ached” (Hayden, Lines 1-3).
The father is shaped as a hardworking and humble man as he “got up early Sundays too. ” The phrase “Sundays too” gives the notion that the entire week, this man is up bright and early. In addition to waking up early, his dedication is intensified by the time he gets up. “The poet says his father dressed “in the blueback cold,” indicating exactly how early he arose” (Johnson, 1). Keeping this idea of love’s simple and domestic service, the phrase “with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekly weather made banked fires blaze” makes clear the dedication and hardworking attitude this man exemplifies.
The “cracked hands” make the illusion real as the excessive work and devotion this man puts forth shows. As the image of the father unfolds as a care, loving and heartfelt individual, we can connect the earlier line of “no one ever thanked him” (Hayden, 5). This phrase takes on substantial meaning as in a way to describe the lack of appreciation by the speaker and others. The poem, reflected by the style, eludes these happenings to events of the past. Johnson sees this fit as “the speaker tells us that when he was a child, he did not recognize the efforts and sacrifices his father made” (Johnson, 1).
This coldness and regret can be felt in the words “no one ever thanked him”, for the speaker ultimately feels like he should have. With the regret of the speaker in mind, we continue to trace the poem as seen by Johnson. In the third stanza, line one Hayden states: “Speaking indifferently to him,/who had drive out the cold” (10,11). Johnson sees this as the “poet recalls himself “speaking indifferently” to his father . . . the child’s indifference also reveals his attitude that these interactions with is father lacked significance at the time” (Johnson, 2).
We can trace these similar thoughts as the word “indifferently” reflects an “uninterested” mindset that children so many times have. However, as an adult this “indifferent” attitude shifts to regret and understanding to the significance of these fatherly interactions. The concluding lines of “Those Winter Sundays” really reiterates and drives home the idea of the honoring of love’s simple service in our lives (Johnson,1). The author who is an adult is reflecting on various interactions with his father. In turn, he remembers various jobs he did to tend to the narrators wellbeing.
At the conclusion of the poem Hayden states: “What did I know, what did I know/of love’s austere and lonely office? ” (Hayden, 13-14). The phrase “what did I know” triggers a tone of regret and remorsefulness in the speaker. The speaker did not know these were actions of love, but now understands the sacrifices made by his father. In turn, the end of the poem “contains a moment of celebration, but it is a serious celebration, marked by a small sadness or remorse” (Johnson, 2). This celebration is marked by the word “offices” which “also connotes “rites” especially in the sense of religious observance” (Johnson, 2).
Gallagher and Johnson both put forth interesting evaluations and conclusions of “Those Winter Sundays. ” There final conclusions on the poem drastically differ as Gallagher sees the poem as a childhood void of affection, whereas Johnson concludes the poem is about honoring love’s simple service. Although they both succeed in defending their conclusions, I argue they are both wrong. “Those Winter Sundays” is written in a way that makes it undistinguishable to deem either of these authors right. The first aspect that creates this incapability is the word choice that Hayden uses.
An example of this is the phrase “no one ever thanked him. ” As we trace each line of the poem, there answer to this phrase is shaped in mind of the reader. For instance, if we believe this poem is about love, they would come to conclude the phrase “no one over thanked him” captures remorse and regret. However, if we read the poem as a childhood void of affection, we have a different perspective on the phrase, such as his violence and anger did not warrant a thank you. Hayden’s play on words and ability to leave “openness” in his word choice allows this problem to transpire.
The second element that leaves this poem to be undistinguishable in a concrete meaning is Hayden’s life. Robert Hayden grew up in a black ghetto in Detroit and at an early age he was abandoned. However, a loving and caring neighbor of the family raised him. Hardly anymore information is needed about Robert Hayden to see the complications his past constructs. Gallagher and Johnson’s conclusion both are supported through his past. However, it is merely impossible to deem which one is correct. It is through this we arrive at the inability to distinguish who is right and are reserved to simply the answer that it is not able to be distinguished.
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