Identifying and Interpreting Devices of Sound: an Analysis of "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden
As the title states, this poem is about Robert Hayden remembering “Those Winter Sundays - Identifying and Interpreting Devices of Sound: an Analysis of "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden introduction. ” The primary focus of this poem is the relationship between father and son. In particular, the way his father communicates his love through actions instead of words. Specifically, his father built early morning fires that drove out the cold and polished his good church shoes. In “Those Winter Sundays”, Robert Hayden uses strong imagery and sound to describe his father, and how he grew from lacking respect for his father to admiring him.
The first stanza is saturated with strong imagery and diction that vividly describes his father, the winter weather, and a fierce fire. From the first line of this poem the subject matter is evident, Hayden’s father. His hard working nature becomes clear is he wakes up early “Sundays too,” which is supposed to be a day of rest. The harsh imagery of “blueblack cold” depicts the dark sky and how truly early his father rises. To further emphasize his father’s strength, Hayden describes his hands using sensory imagery like “cracked” and “ached” and blames this on his work in the “weekday weather.
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” The last line of this stanza is very important to Hayden and really indicates the theme of this poem. “Banked fires blaze” evokes strong imagery and the use of this phrase suggests his father is mainly responsible for making the fire and ultimately heating the house. Hayden ends this stanza saying “No one ever thanked him. ” This sentence is important in understanding the themes of unconditional love, regret, and admiration throughout this poem. The sonic devices of the first stanza support my interpretation of Hayden’s poem and the sound contributes to my reasoning.
The overall tone of this first stanza starts with sympathy and regret, closing with a final hint of anger (with himself). Hayden initially uses alliteration, such as “blueblack” and “weekday weather” to describe the cold harsh conditions his father is constantly subjected to. When describing his father’s “hands” as “cracked” and “ached” the poet creates assonance that makes the reader feel sympathy for him. The use of hard consonants, single-syllable words, and punctuation in the last line shifts the sound to a choppy and angrier, tone.
Most importantly, the rhyming of “banked” and “thanked” as well as “ever” being the only two-syllable word, draws together a sense of regret Hayden has for never truly appreciating his father or helping him. The imagery and diction shift slightly in the second stanza as Hayden introduces himself to the poem and incorporates imagery representative of his father. As a boy, Hayden woke up once the fire started to heat the house. The first line is similar in word choice to the first stanza however different in meaning.
“The cold splintering, breaking” describes the fire his father built defeating the harsh winter cold. The blazing fire symbolizes his father. Hayden used cold imagery in the first stanza to express the struggle his father had with harsh winter weather, but the fire splintering the cold represents his father always being strong enough to prevail. After the harsh cold dissipated and “the rooms were warm” his father would call for him. This use of warm imagery connecting Hayden and his father’s act of love suggests a shift in opinion of his father later in life.
The sounds and rhythm of the second stanza change drastically from the first. The second stanza establishes Hayden as a character and uses more soft consonants and open vowel sounds than the first stanza. However, there is still much indifference and sadness sensed in the sounds. This stanza challenges my proposed idea about this poem because it goes against the smooth transition of imagery and sound that describe his father. This stanza breaks the pattern in order for Hayden to express his feelings about his father and their past.
This goes against the flowing memory of his father as a hard-working man to a more appreciated and respected father. The final stanza of “Those Winter Sundays” begins describing his “indifference” toward his father however quickly describes acts he is grateful father did. It is this stanza where Hayden acknowledges his father’s act of unconditional love. His father had “driven out the cold” and the combination of strong action words and the cold imagery depicts his father as triumphant over the harsh conditions that he was subjected to. He also “polished” Hayden’s “good shoes” which shows his father’s warmth and kindness.
Although Hayden’s father is initially portrayed as tough this unspoken act of love shows his true warmth. The repeated rhetorical question of “what did I know” suggests a lack of understanding because of Hayden’s young age as well as feelings of regret. The last line of this poem is important because it shows that Hayden now understands a father’s love. “Love’s austere and lonely offices” suggests that a father to a son is a very important responsibility filled with non-stop selfless acts of love, and with only one father, it becomes a “lonely” job.
The lack of hard consonant sounds and abundance of assonance indicates a calmer and more appreciative tone. Hayden uses “o” and “i” sounds in order to force the reader/speaker to open their mouths and pronounce the words smoother and longer. The soft consonant alliteration of “love’s” and “lonely” draw together the idea of parenting and how being a father and a mother entail different responsibilities that only that person can fulfill, which makes parenting a lonely responsibility sometimes. Also, this soft consonant alliteration speaks to the idea of sacrifice and thankless acts parents constantly do.
The sound of this last stanza flows a lot better than the choppy harsh sounds of the first stanza. This signals a shift in Hayden’s feelings toward his father to a more regretful yet understanding emotion. This is also reinforced by the repetitive use of “what did I know” to try to reconcile with his father and use young age as the reason for his past lack of respect toward his father. In this poem, Hayden recalls memories from his childhood and describes his emotions through powerful imagery.
His father would build fires to heat the home before Hayden woke up, in doing this he drive away the cold, and also polished his good church shoes. The sonic devices throughout this poem reinforce my idea of cold and warm imagery by utilizing hard consonant sounds with cold imagery and soft consonant and vowel sounds with warm imagery. Overall, Hayden wants his father to know that although he’s angry with himself for not appreciating him more in the past, now that he is a man himself, he understands his father’s unconditional love.