POETIC BLOOMINGS READING ROOM #42
Born Asa Bundy Sheffey, Robert Hayden lived a traumatic childhood. During his parent’s contentious marriage, Robert witnessed fights and suffered beatings, the chronic anger would stay with him throughout his life. Also against him were his severe visual problems which prevented him from participating in sports as an escape. Because of these traumas, he suffered debilitating periods of depression that he would call “my dark nights of the soul”. Robert Hayden served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1976–78, (which today is known as US Poet Laureate.) He became the first African-American writer to hold that office. Here in his most famous poem, “Those Winter Sundays” he deals with the memory of fatherly love and loneliness.
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback 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?