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?
In 1976, Robert Hayden was the first black poet to be chosen as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. His formal, elegant poems about the black historical experience earned him a number of other major awards as well.
Hayden’s poem is also included in the Poetry Foundation’s DC Poetry Tour, a multimedia tour that reveals our nation’s capital through the eyes of its great poets.
From the halls of the federal buildings to neighborhood side streets, the tour features poems written in and about Washington, D.C., as well as photographs by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis. The tour can be taken online or downloaded at www.poetryfoundation.org/gallery/walking-tours, and is available for download via iTunes. (Disclosure: The Poetry Foundation also funds the NewsHour’s poetry coverage.)
“Those Winter Sundays” is taken from “Collected Poems of Robert Hayden,” edited by Frederick Glaysher (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1966).