Those Winter Sundays (transcript)

John Clarke: My name is John Clarke and I’m a legislative researcher here at Library of Congress. But the one important thing that you might want to remember is that, the poem I’ll be reading is “Those Winter Sundays,” by Robert Hayden. And I first heard the poem about, around 20 years ago when I first started working here, when Robert Hayden read at a gathering of poetry, former poetry consultants, and the poem really struck me then and has haunted me ever since.

And it was around the time my son was born, too, but it reminds me of the relationship between my grandfather and my father and also somewhat of the relationship with my father and myself. My grandfather was an Irish immigrant and then was a widower at an early age, and raised six boys. My father was the oldest and I guess my grandfather, my uncles have told me, had to be particularly hard, even though he was very loving, towards the oldest. My father later became a police lieutenant in New York City.

And although they’re from an Irish-American background and Robert Hayden grew up in an African American background, of course, as you all know, at these deep human levels of particularist matter although today I discovered to my, I hadn’t realized that they actually, my father and Robert Hayden, were almost exact contemporaries. They were born and died within about a year of each other, 1912 and 1913, and 1980 and 1982.

And the final thing I’d like to say about it is I’ve been struck by not only how it moves people, about the relationship between fathers and sons—or mothers and daughters, or parents and children—but our men, women, whatever, any human being who has loved another. Anyway, “Those Winter Sundays,” Robert Hayden, by Robert Hayden.

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?

Thank you