Week 250: Those Winter Sundays, by Robert Hayden

A sad piece, this one by the American poet Robert Hayden (1913-1980), and one that speaks to me powerfully of that dislocation between the generations that perhaps always exists, but was particularly acute for those of us who came to adolescence during the nineteen-sixties, when we rejected so much that seemed to us foolish or wrong-headed about our parents’ world – its deference, its intolerance, its unquestioning acceptance of class and racial divisions, its lip-service to a religion whose more demanding precepts it cheerfully ignored, its militaristic preoccupation with shiny black shoes and short haircuts – and then were faced with the problem, as all generations must be, of preserving what had been good about that world and of recognising that for all our differences we had been loved, and that parental love carries responsibilities, which we in our turn must now take on.

Those Winter Sundays

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?

Robert Hayden