Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
- Okay, Shmoopers, let’s start with the basics. In these first two lines, we’ve got an unnamed speaker, and we’ve got our speaker’s father. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to our speaker as a “he,” even though the poem doesn’t specify whether the speaker is male or female.
- So, our speaker begins by telling us that on “Sundays too” his father woke up early. The most important word in this line is that itty-bitty “too,” which suggests that the speaker’s father got up early every day, including Sundays.
- And what day is Sunday? Probably church day—the day of rest. It sounds like the speaker’s father never gets to sleep in. Poor dude. Everyone needs to sleep in once in a while.
- Then the speaker tells us just how early his father wakes; it’s “blueblack” outside. Which means it’s before sunrise. And it’s super cold out. Even the word itself feels cold. When we hear “blueblack,” we feel like were being thwacked in the face by a cold wind. It’s that consonance—that repeated “b” sound that does it to us.
- Also, it’s interesting that the coldness is being described in terms of color (and a made- up color at that), not in terms of feeling. We call this synesthesia—when one kind of sensory experience (like feeling cold) is experienced by another kind of sensory experience (like seeing blueblack). We're experiencing two senses at once, which makes this imagery very vivid.
- And we’ve got to admit that this does not sound fun. We are definitely not at all jealous of the speaker’s father. We at Shmoop like our beauty sleep in our snuggly beds. And we're fans of central heating.
then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
- So we were already feeling bad for the speaker’s dad, and then we find out more about his life and feel even worse.
- The speaker’s father’s hands are cracked and achy. This guy isn’t going to work during the weekday as an accountant or something cushy like that. He’s doing hard, physical labor. And the results of this labor are visible on his skin. Ouch.
- But does this stop the speaker’s father? No way. He’s a tough cookie, and he makes the “banked fires blaze,” or, in other words, he lights all of the fires in the fireplaces to warm up the house so that no one else in his family will have to haul their butts out of bed in the blueblack cold.
- Let’s pause here and check out all of these “b” sounds. We’ve got some serious alliteration in these lines. Alliteration is a poetic device in which the beginning sounds of words repeat (“banked” and “blaze,” “weekday weather”). In this poem, all of this alliteration is sounding really harsh, which echoes the cold and unhappy condition of the speaker’s father.
- We’ve also got some assonance going on; we’ve got a bunch of repeated vowel sounds, like the long “a” sounds in “ached” and “blaze.” It's a slow, mournful sound, which probably isn't too far a cry from how the dad feels, having to get up and at 'em so early every Sunday.
- Finally, the speaker ends this stanza by telling us that no one ever gave his father props for all his efforts. This poor guy is getting up way early to warm the house for his family and no one ever says thank you? We are starting to feel like the speaker and the rest of his family are a bit ungrateful. Okay maybe a lot ungrateful.
- But wait a second. The speaker seems totally aware of the fact that somebody should have thanked dear old dad for slogging away all those years. But he certainly didn't seem aware of that fact when all this was going down.
- That's because this insight comes later in the speaker’s life. When he’s a kid living with his dad, he doesn’t understand all that his father has done for him. But the poem takes place when the speaker is all grown up, and in retrospect, the speaker totally gets it.
- It’s almost like we’ve got two speakers in this poem: a young speaker from the past, who takes his pops for granted, and an older speaker from the present, who values his pops. A bit tricky, isn’t it?