Those Winter Sundays: Theme, Tone & Imagery

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Youth is a blessing, but reflection leads to an understanding of just how blessed we really are. In this lesson, we will analyze the poem, ''Those Winter Sundays'' by Robert Hayden, for tone and imagery to learn the theme of the piece.

Hindsight is 20/20

When we are young, it can be difficult to understand the concepts of working, money, and society. In youth, we can have our blinders on to the effort our parents and guardians put into making a life for themselves and the home. In Robert Hayden's poem, ''Those Winter Sundays,'' a man reflects on his childhood and the love his father showed him through gestures of safety and comfort. However, it wasn't until he was grown that he was able to define love in these terms.

Read on to analyze the poem through tone and imagery, and look for the themes presented in the writing.

Tone and Imagery

Before we can begin analysis, we need to remember what we are looking for. When looking for tone, the attitude of the speaker, we are looking at the word choices and viewpoints. When looking for imagery, the descriptive language that allows the reader to visualize the scene, we are looking for vivid pictures painted by the author through descriptive scenes.

Let's break down the poem by stanza to decipher the meaning.

Stanza 1

The poem begins by describing a father getting up early in the morning in a cold home. He lights fires in several rooms in the home to warm his family. The description of the ''blueblack cold'' and his ''cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather'' puts the reader into the harsh temperature of the room, making us feel raw just like the father's hands. The image also provides us with the information that the father works hard all week, and even at home, he is still working.

Thanklessly, the father woke every morning to warm the house before waking the family.
Image of fire in fireplace.

We feel the sharp cold, and the tone of the poem seems to follow the temperature. It feels serious and raw, yet reflective. The first stanza ends with the line, ''No one ever thanked him,'' hinting at the feeling of regret. Did this son neglect to thank his father? It's clear he now understands how much work his father did to support the family and care for the home. However, these lines imply distance, which is reinforced in the next two stanzas.

Stanza 2

The reader is again reminded of the temperature as the boy wakes to hear the ''cold splintering, breaking.'' As we see the father warm the house for the family, the last line, ''fearing the chronic angers of that house,'' is a cause for concern. What angers did this narrator feel, and is this why the father was never thanked? It seems herein lies the shift of the poem, to a son that was appreciating his father's care to the reality of emotion that was in the house. However, it seems in this reflection, that anger may not be what was truly present.

While the reader is left to wonder what angers the child faced, we also see a warmth within the father, who rises each day to warm the home, then wake the family. Ironically, the son who is warmed by the father's fire cannot feel the love with which the father enacts this thoughtful gesture each day. It is here we see the warming of the son's heart and what could be regret.

Stanza 3

In the last stanza, we return to that feeling of appreciation as the boy explains how the father drove ''out the cold,'' and even ''polished (his) good shoes.'' Yet it's clear there is a divide between the father and son, the son seemingly not knowing what love was all about as a child, which is shown in the last two lines. Is the reason for the son's indifference that of childish folly? Not knowing what care means from a father to a son? Or did he envision something more?

The narrator reflects on his father
Image of polished boots.

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