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Those Winter Sundays

Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 6-8

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress,

  • While the focus of the beginning of the poem was on the speaker’s dad, now we’re paying attention to the speaker himself.
  • He doesn’t really ever experience that “blueblack cold” as his father does. He only wakes to find the cold “splintering, breaking.” It’s like the cold is something tangible that he can hold in his hand—something that can break. Of course that's not literally true, so we should think of this as figurative language.
  • And who breaks the cold? Well the speaker doesn’t tell us here, but we know from earlier in the poem that it’s his father who breaks the cold by lighting fires in all of the fireplaces.
  • Then the speaker tells us that he’d get out of bed and get dressed “when the rooms were warm.” Ah, what luxury! The little sleepyhead can wait to get out of bed 'til the whole house is toasty and there's no need for slippers.
  • The speaker also gets to take his time. He gets out of bed and gets dressed (possibly for church) “slowly.” This image seriously contrasts with the one we have of his dad, laboring at the crack of dawn every morning to support his family and keep them warm.

Lines 9

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

  • Already we have seen that the speaker has a very different Sunday experience than his father does, but these lines really start to bring this idea home.
  • In this line, the poem shifts a bit. This is not a story of ungrateful family members who don't appreciate their self-sacrificing papa. It's a bit more complicated than that; there was some anger in the air.
  • We can think of these “chronic angers” in two ways. First, we can interpret them as referring to the people in the house (the speaker’s family) being angry.
  • The other option is to think of the house itself as being angry. If that's the case, then Hayden's giving us a little dose of personification, because he's saying the house has human feelings. It’s possible that the whole atmosphere is so soaked with anger that the speaker feels it coming through the walls.
  • Whatever the case, these angers are chronic. That means they've been around a while, and they're not going away anytime soon.
  • And "chronic" is an odd word choice, right? Usually when we hear the word chronic, we think of a sickness, like chronic asthma or chronic fatigue syndrome. But in this case we're talking about a chronic emotion.
  • So that anger has to leave our speaker (and probably his father) feeling pretty rotten. At the very least, our speaker is scared of those angers.
  • Hayden isn’t too explicit here, but it sounds like domestic life in the speaker’s home was not all sunshine and rainbows. Perhaps his parents were in an unhappy marriage, or perhaps they struggled financially. The only thing that’s clear is that it was an unhappy household.
  • Is this what you would expect from the speaker, given the impressive portrait that he painted of his pops in the beginning of the poem? Probably not. So it’s important to remember here that the speaker is actually recounting a past experience of his childhood—and that the poem is taking place in the present.
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