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Excercise: An Interpretation of Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays"

User Thread
 33yrs • F
A CTL of 1 means that vigil is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
Excercise: An Interpretation of Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays"
I am going to attempt to re-aquaint myself with my brain and evaluate this poem through different filters. In this case I am interpreting imagery and sonics, stanza by stanza.

The reasoning behind this is that taking apart the mechanisms in a poem and figuring out which parts that make it work (and in some cases, which parts don't) is a helpful excercise, and allows me to better explore & understand all of the different layers that need to be taken into consideration during the crafting a poem.

I am not particularly experienced at interpreting poetry in this way, so I appologize if this lacks clarity, I am learning. If anyone who is interested enough to read this and can offer anymore tips or highlight things that I have missed, they would be very welcome to do so.

Otherwise, I hope that even if you are interested and don't feel that you can offer any input, that my interpretations may highlight or introduce you to things that you may have overlooked in poetry before.

* * * *

Those winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

* * * *

Narrative interpretation:

The focus of this poem is about the speaker looking back on his childhood, realizing that he did not give his father as much respect as he deserved. Though he feels regret about this, he does not lay the guilt or blame upon himself, for he accepts that he was only a child and did not know any better.



Sundays too my father got up early,

To start with "Sundays too" almost immediately speaks of an ongoing task, as though the narrator may have been talking about all of the other days his father had worked that week. Sundays are quite well known to be 'rest days', so it is also doubly significant for someone to be getting up early on a Sunday. It gives us the impression that the father most likely doesn't rest much, if at all.

And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,

Not only does the father rise early on a Sunday, he does it despite it being cold, giving me the impression that he is doing something he deems important and necessary - why else would anyone get up early on a cold Sunday morning? And this isn't just any cold though, it is a "blueback cold". When I read this discription, it immediately brings to mind our bodyparts that 'turn blue' from the cold, such as our fingers, hands and feet. They do this because it is so cold that our body concentrates on sending blood to our vital regions in order to protect them from extremely cold temperatures, thus the description of "blueback cold" works extrodinarily well in showing us just what kind of biting, bitter cold it must be.


The poem then goes on to describe "cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday". The meaning here is quite straightforward, though what is interesting is the plosive consonants of the "A" and "k" sounds, which actually begin back at "blueback cold".

"blueback cold" "cracked hands that ached" "week". They are spaced apart enough that there is a 'cracking' sound throughout the three lines. It sonically emphasizes the words "cold" "cracked" and "ached" in particular, and ties them together. It makes us draw more connections than is actually said in the poem. Cold ice cracks, cracked hands might also be cold, dry hands. Cracking can be associated with aches in joints. The sounds fit the descriptions very closely, and engages us with our sense of hearing, drawing us further into the poem itself.

Also, I don't know about you, but the shape that my mouth makes saying the line "blueblack cold" is an O shape, which is something I also find very interesting as it is the same shape one would make when cupping their hands over their mouth and blowing into them to try to heat them up. In this way, you are also physically illustrating the effects of a "blueblack cold".

The poem is filled with sounds that reflect abstract concepts such as labour. "labour in the weekday weather made" (say it out loud) has a slow, drawn out and airy sound with the repeated "weh" sounds, giving a kind of sonic interpretation of the word "labor". The labor of his father is slow, wearisome, and drawn out through the week, just like these words.

"banked fires blaze" here the "Beh" sounds are reflective of the sound of fires themselves when they burst into existance, explosive "beh"-"blaze". BOOM! The "ank" sound in "banked" also carries over the "ACK" sound from the previous lines, which can also be tied into crackling noises that are made by fires.

To state simply at the end of stanze 1 "No one ever thanked him." highlights a simple fact that indeed, this man worked very hard and yet despite his hard work, his efforts went unnoticed and unnappreciated. Perhaps because the tasks seemed so mundane and 'everyday' that it might have seemed that he did it out of some unconcious necessity instead of a deliberatness in caring for his family.

(to be continued)

PS. this really reminds me of high school

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[  Edited by vigil at   ]
 40yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that Chained Wings is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
But this time you are the teacher. ;P

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"When I was a child I flew! Then as an adult- I watched others soar."
 33yrs • F
A CTL of 1 means that vigil is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
I fully disagree.

my brayn stul neds 2 groed moar 2 b dat awsum1!11

I mean, for all you know, I could have gotten all of my information off the back of a cereal box.

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Excercise: An Interpretation of Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays"
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