Robert Hayden uses various elements in his poem, “Those Winter Sundays”, including diction and imagery, to show how the speaker matures in regards to feelings towards his home-life and his father. The speaker’s feelings of remorse for not showing gratitude for his father’s efforts serve as a message to all generations. This message is that one should look past the unpleasant aspects of life and appreciate the love and care that is received. Hayden demonstrates that focusing on the negative aspects of one’s life will lead to heartache and remorse.
Robert Hayden’s use of diction demonstrates a natural process of maturation over time. The speaker’s vocabulary seems to expand as the poem progresses, showing the development from a small boy to a grown man. The word usage in the first two lines of the poem, such as “got up early/ and put his clothes on” (lines 1-2), have childlike tones. However, the use of words such as “rise and dress” (8) express the same idea, but in a more mature fashion. This trend continues throughout the poem as the speaker uses more sophisticated terms, such as “indifferently” (10) and “austere” (14) towards the end of the poem. This also contributes to an understanding of the speaker’s feelings towards his father. In the first stanza the speaker shows his negative view of his home-life as a child with such lines as “fearing the chronic angers of that house” (9). In the second stanza, however, the speaker shows his remorse when recalling his memory as an adult, “Speaking indifferently to him/ who had driven out the cold/ and polished my good shoes as well” (10-12). The diction here shows that, as he matures, the speaker is more inclined to focus on the more positive aspects of his father’s actions, therefore, gaining a better understanding of his father’s love for him.
The syntax used in “Those Winter Sundays” also plays an important role in understanding the theme of this poem. In the first stanza the sentences are structured so that more attention is given to the negative aspects of the speaker’s childhood, with small shadows of remorse buried into the recollection. Yet in the second stanza, more attention is given to the speaker’s realization that his father showed his love for his son in his own ways. The last lines of the poem demonstrate this most of all, “What did I know, what did I know/ of love’s austere and lonely offices?” (13-14). Repetition of the phrase “what did I know” (13) draws attention to the feelings of remorse that the speaker feels for treating his father with indifference and indicates his regret for his feelings as a young boy.
The meter and rhythm of “Those Winter Sundays” also play an important role in developing the poem’s tone. By using short words that contain hard consonant sounds when speaking of the father, as in the line “with cracked hands that ached” (3), in relation to the softer sounds used when the speaker is describing himself, as in the line “slowly I would rise and dress” (8), Hayden is able to symbolize the harshness of the father’s life in contrast to his that of his son’s. The sounds change when describing the father, however, in the last stanza. There is still some emphasis on the harsher consonants, yet the speaker uses softer consonant sounds more frequently, such as in the line “Speaking indifferently to him,/ who had driven out the cold/ and polished my good shoes as well” (10-12). This symbolizes the