Study Guide

Those Winter Sundays Quotes

  • Love

    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. (1-5)

    These first few lines set the scene of the poem and introduce us to the speaker’s father, who works really hard, every day of the week, to support his family. He does physical labor (that’s why his hands are cracked and ache) and he wakes up really early in the morning to warm up the house for his family. This is how the father expresses his love; not through hugs, but through waking up at 5 am. That's dedication.

    No one ever thanked him. (5)

    Sounds like the guy could use a break! Or even just an occasional thank-you hug, right? Maybe a nice watch on Father's Day?

    fearing the chronic angers of that house,

    Speaking indifferently to him,
    who had driven out the cold
    and polished my good shoes as well. (9-12)

    Here the speaker, as a child, seems only to focus on his emotional relationship with his father—the “chronic anger” of their home. What he neglects is the way his old man lit the fires and polished his kid's shoes. His father shows love by doing, not by saying, and this flies over the head of the little guy. Understandable, but still heart-wrenching.

    What did I know, what did I know
    of love’s austere and lonely offices? (13-14)

    Shmoop confession time: this line breaks our hearts. Here, the speaker acknowledges that he, as a child, knew nothing about the expression of love—how love can be expressed through actions, and not through words. His father’s intense devotion—waking up super early, working hard every day of the week, lighting all the fires—is something that he can only appreciate now. Even though his father’s love was there all along. Tragic. (But hey, better late than never, Shmoop says.)

  • Sacrifice

    Sundays too my father got up early
    and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, (1-2)

    Here the speaker introduces his father. The little “too” in the first line tells us that his father gets up early every single morning of his life. He sacrifices his sleep every day for the benefit of his family. Just think of the yawning.

    then with cracked hands that ached
    from labor in the weekday weather made
    banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. (3-5)

    Now we find out even more about his pops. Not only does he wake up early, he also works doing manual labor (hence those aching, cracked hands) every day. And to top it off, none of his family members thank or even acknowledge him. Way to go, family. We are not envious of this dude’s life. Not one bit.

    I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
    When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
    and slowly I would rise and dress,
    Speaking indifferently to him,
    who had driven out the cold
    and polished my good shoes as well. (7-12)

    In contrast to his cold dad, the speaker gets to luxuriate in warmth and wake up at a normal hour. Once again, we find out that he’s indifferent to his father—no hugs of gratitude here, even though the speaker’s dad has warmed up the house and shined some shoes. Speaker! Get a clue.

    What did I know, what did I know
    of love’s austere and lonely offices? (13-14)

    Here, the speaker finally acknowledges his father’s sacrifices for his family. He didn’t understand them back in the day, but now, he understands how much his pops did for his family—that these kinds of sacrifices were an expression of love, even if they weren't all that eloquent.

  • Youth

    No one ever thanked him. (5)

    This line sums up the speaker’s relationship to his father. The speaker didn’t thank him, or even realize all that he’d done for his family. Nice work, kiddo.

    I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
    When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
    and slowly I would rise and dress, (6-8)

    Here, we see the speaker enjoying a nice warm Sunday morning in bed, while we know that his father was up in the cold winter a.m. There’s such a distinction between the speaker’s experience and his father’s.

    fearing the chronic angers of that house,

    Speaking indifferently to him,
    who had driven out the cold
    and polished my good shoes as well. (9-12)

    Now we find out that the speaker, in his youth, feared his father, and thus was cold to him (emotionally). Maybe his father wasn’t the snuggliest dad around, but he sure knew how to provide for his family. The speaker starts to acknowledge his father here, and draws a contrast between how he related to him (indifferently) and all that his father had done (warmed up the house, polished his shoes), which shows just how not indifferent the old man was. We’re starting to get a sense that the speaker, as an adult, recognizes the misbegotten feelings of his youth.

    What did I know, what did I know
    of love’s austere and lonely offices? (13-14)

    Everything becomes clear in these final lines. By asking this question, the speaker acknowledges that he knew nothing of love in his youth. The implication is that the speaker now understands his father’s love for and dedication to his family. Take that, youth! In this poem, wisdom (especially the emotional kind) comes with age.