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?
by Robert Hayden
This poem, fitting for a chilly Sunday in winter, by contemporary American poet, Robert Hayden, appeals to me with its honesty and the double lens of child and adult looking back. Parents play such a key role in our lives and in retrospect can appear in a whole new light. In this poem, the child’s fears of the “chronic angers of that house” are not minimised and we feel from the “indifferent speech” that there is a lack of warmth between father and son. Yet the adult, looking back, sees the “labour” of the adult who had “driven out the cold “ and achieves an understanding that there was “love” but a love concealed in “austere and lonely offices” that the child could not recognise. What moves me most is that the sense of failure and guilt and forgiveness and tenderness sit side by side in this poem.