Analysis of The Poem "Those Winter Sundays"

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Most of the times we look back and regret some of the aspects of our past life. Some of the authors at times write about this regretful past. It is evident in one of the fascinating poems that have consistently been analyzed by scholars “Those Winter Sundays” written by Robert Hayden known initially as Asa Bundy Sheffy. The poem is about a child early year’s memory. It brings about the picture of the speaker becoming aware of the father's sacrifices, which he took for granted later in life. In this work, we will analyze this poem as well as examine the poet’s life.

The Poet’s Life and History

Hayden was an African – American given the name Asa Bundy Sheffy initially and was born on 4 August 1913 in Detroit. The parents of Hayden were Ruth and Asa Sheffy who parted before he was born which made him be raised by foster parents. The adoptive parents who raised him were Sue Ellen and William Hayden who lived in Paradise Valley. (Zink, 7) During his young age, he went through a wild life. He witnessed the recurrent verbal as well as physical bouts between his parents. The lifestyle made him feel depressed, and he became socially isolated finding refuge in literature. The haven in literature later influenced his later interests in fiction as well as poetry.

After finishing high school, he joined Detroit City College now known as Wayne University. After completing his studies, he progressed to work for the national writer’s project. Hayden took it as an excellent opportunity to understand more about the African – Americans. He spent most of his time researching about the Africa – Americans history as well as folk life. The information that he got from this studies inspired his later poetic works. He worked with Federal writers project for 2 years and then went ahead to craft poems. Hayden’s first volume of poems published in 1940 was known as, Heart Shape in the dust. (Zink, 8). Hayden got married to Erma Inez Morris, and then converted to her faith (Baha’i ) in the same year

The new belief that he started practicing after his marriage influenced his subsequent works and made the little-known religion a bit famous. (DeJong, 481) After publishing the first volume, he joined the University of Michigan for further poetry studies. Once he finished pursuing his master’s degree, he started his teaching career in Michigan University. After several years, Hayden took a job at Fisk University where he taught for 20 years. He later on returned to Michigan and stayed in Ann Arbor until his death.

During his teaching career, he not only taught poetry but also went on to write and publish his poetic works. Most of his works focused on the plights of the African – Americans as well as his early childhood years. Hayden’s works also addressed various political concepts such as Vietnam War as well as slavery. He had a lot of interest in the African –American cultures as well as history, but his Baha’i’s faith, which forbids racial categorization, led him to declare himself as an American poet.

 Besides been a famous professor Hayden’s great works made him get various honors. One of them was the election to the American Academy of poets in 1975. In addition, he became the number one African –American poet to work in the library of congress as a poetry consultant a year later (1976). After about 4 years, Hayden Died, on 25 February 1980.

Theme of the Poem

In the poem, ‘Those Winter Sundays’ the main idea of sacrifice is evident from start to finish. It talks about the speakers father who makes various sacrifices which are worthy of appreciation they are taken for granted. He puts forward that he is also a beneficiary of the sacrifices named by his father, but he is ungrateful. Besides this central theme of sacrifice, there are other themes evident in work such as memory, family relationship, work, and family, nature of love as well as Suffering. The depiction of these themes is evident below.

The main theme of parental sacrifice and duty is evident in these poems in various instances. The speaker says that on Sunday his father woke up too early prepared to go for work, woke him up, and also brushed his shoes. Therefore, it is evident that his father is taking up his parental duties as well as making sacrifices as he goes to work because of his family and makes ready his son’s shoes. (Williams, 3).The speaker also adds that despite him doing all this no gratitude was given to him.

Another theme evident is on the family relationship. According to the speaker, the father is making many sacrifices for him. Why does he do it? Is it because of love? Is there any bond between the two of them? The sacrifices made by the father shows that he has the love for the child who takes long to acknowledge it and he realizes after several years. It is seen in the line that he says that he never knew. (What did I know)? (Hayden).However, the phrase “fearing the chronic anger” that was present in the house shows that maybe there were family issues in the home.

The theme of memory is seen all through the poem from the heading to the end. The title of the poem “those” shows that this poem is a memory. It also shows that the memory is of not only a single Sunday but also many similar Sundays during his childhood. He remembers all his father’s actions during those early years that would wake up very early on winters and makeup fire, and he would not call him until the house was warm and his shoes well polished among others. (Gallagher, 245)

The speaker comes in to acknowledge the balance that his father did between work and family later in life. (Zandy) He has come to know how lonely and tough the parental duties are and they emanate from selflessness. It brings also bought the tough manual work that his father strives to do to make ends meet. The speaker talks about his father having “cracked hands” which came from the everyday labor. (Hayden)

How the Literary Elements Have Contributed To the Theme

The author of the poem has used various literary elements to contribute to the themes in the poem. Let us take a look at how he has used these devices such as consonance, symbolism, metonymy, as well as repetition.

            The consonance of the sound C is evident in the poem, and it brings about the theme of suffering. It is evident in the word Clothes, blueback cold, cracked hands ached. The consonance evokes the pain in the father’s life. It shows that the father may be having a low paying manual job that he works with his hands. (Conley, 9)

The metonymy is also present in the poem “chronic anger of the house “the house is used to represent the family which brings out the theme of family relationship. (Williams, 5) .One then can speculate that there may be distress in the family or the low social, economic status of the family is affecting them.

There is also the use of repetition, which brings out the regret that the speaker has in his earlier years. The father made many sacrifices, but he was never thanked which the speaker regrets. In the poem, the speaker repeats the phrase “what did I know” which brings out the theme of lack of knowledge of parental sacrifices which required gratitude. (Hayden)

Symbolism is also evident when the boy talks about the father conquering the blue-black cold and calling the speaker when the house is warm. It brings about the theme of parental duty and symbolizes that the father goes out there to work in the bid of creating a safe and conducive environment for his son. 


In conclusion, Hayden is a great poet who besides being a professor got great honors and came up with poems that examined the plights of various people, his early childhood years among other issues. One of his fascinating works, “Those Winter Sundays “is a memory of his childhood days, and brings about various themes. The themes include suffering, sacrifice, parental duties, work, family relationship, as well as memory. Hayden uses multiple literally elements to bring out this, which include consonance, repetition, metonym, as well as symbolism.

Works Cited

Conley, Darlene C. Driven and pursued: Black migrant Detroit an analysis of the neighborhoods Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, 1916-1968. Diss. Morgan State University, 2016.

DeJong, Tim. "Nothing human is foreign: polyphony and recognition in the poetry of Robert Hayden."College Literature43.3 (2016): 481-508.

Gallagher, Ann M. "Hayden's Those Winter Sundays."The Explicator 51.4 (1993): 245-247.

Hayden, Robert. . "Those Winter Sundays."Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep ( 1940).

Williams, Pontheolla T. Robert Hayden: A Critical Analysis of His Poetry. University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Zandy, Janet. Those winter Sundays: Female academics and their working-class parents. University Press of America, 2005.

Zink, Joshua. "Love's Austere and Lonely Offices: An Analysis of Tom Cipullo's."America 1968.Diss.The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2015): 7-11.

December 12, 2023



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