November 23, 2007

Poetry Friday: A Cold Day in Fatherland

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line, by Leo Tolstoy

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack 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?

“Those Winter Sundays” from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, ©1966.

This is another poem copied in my journal during my high school years. The first time I saw it, it was on a pop quiz where we were supposed to identify themes or some usual English teacher-y thing I can't recall. I do recall I that I cried as I took the test - which isn't actually all that unusual in high school, but I wasn't crying because I was unprepared... This poem resonates with me still because it reflects a conflicted parental relationship -- being so grateful for the sacrifice of someone getting up early when their hands must be just stiff with cold, to coax the house into warmth and life before you have to rise -- but also being unable to voice that gratitude, or even find it very often, because of "the chronic angers of that house." I knew those too well.

Gratitude is just as good the day after Thanksgiving - so I will say I am really appreciating the conversations I am having with some of you who are brave enough to espouse a point of view on ethnicity and race and young adult literature. Thanks for your thoughts. If you'd like some poetic musings, the fun today is at Susan Writes.


Anonymous said...

I've read that poem once already this year - either in my page-a-day or as part of The Writer's Almanack. And it's so lovely and forlorn. The photo you paired it with is magnificent, and shows a much better sort of relationship. I may have to print it out, because it's so very lovely.

I understand why you cried during the test, and copied it out, and have carried it with you.


divatobe said...

I remember reading this in front of church for a Father's Day event and getting all choked up. It's been one of my favorites since my jr year in high school.

John Mutford said...

It is quite the emotional doozy, isn't it? I remember reading it in a first year English class at university. I never saw a religious connection at the time, but for some reason, it's saying something to me along those lines this time around- though I don't consider myself much of a religious sort, go figure!

Andromeda Jazmon said...

What an achingly beautiful poem. Now that I am the parent I feel this poem so differently than I did as a young woman. I imagine you do too - it's one of those "looked at clouds from both sides now, and still some how..." moments.

Those photos are gorgeous. The love and joy just shines out of those faces.

Vivian Mahoney said...

Wow. What a powerful poem. I have never read this poem, and it definitely resonates with me. My dad just sent me a heartfelt letter, one I would have died for when I was a teen.

Thanks for this poem and for directing me to the awesome conversation about ethnicity, race and YA. Glad you started that discussion.

Elaine Magliaro said...


Congratulations! You won a Robert's Snow print signed by Grace Lin from Wild Rose Reader. Please email me your address so I can send you your prize.

Anonymous said...

I am in love with the last two lines of that poem.