Now let me take you to a tiny tour of “Those Winter Sundays” through all the lines one by one. We will try to check all the subtle shades of color that this poem possesses, through our sharp microscope of literary vision. So let us start with first stanza.
‘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.’
‘Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueblack cold’
- The poem starts in the first two lines itself, without any introduction or background created by the poet. It is an autobiographical poem, where the subject is I. we do not know who speaks the poem. But from the first line, we can realize that this poem is about the speaker’s father and the speaker says something about his father.
- ‘Sundays’ is used to show some different meaning. It is not used merely to mention some day of a week, but to specify some purpose and the purpose to mention ‘Sundays’ is to denote that Sunday is often called the ‘day of rest’. However, the speaker’s father rises early in the morning even on Sundays. This emphasis is put by using another significant word, i.e. ‘too’. This word emphasizes the importance of day, as Sunday is not the working day, yet his father works on that day without rest only for the sake of his family.
- In the second line, another significant usage of words’ magic is ‘blueblack’. The speaker says that his father wakes up in ‘blueblack’ cold. Here the poet has created the magic of emotions with the rainbow of color and words. Using colors like blue and black, the poet has presented the intensity of atmosphere. Blue is for snowy morning and black is for early morning, when the sun light has not yet reached on earth and it is still very dark. So this way the poet has made a beautiful use of ‘synesthesia’.
Lines-3 & 4
‘Then with cracked hands that ached
From labor in the weekday weather made’
- Now the poem takes slightly a tragic turn. The speaker elaborates the condition of his father, by saying that his father gets up early though his hands are ‘cracked’ and ‘ached’.
- Here we can understand that the speaker’s father is not doing a white job sitting on an easy chair whole day, but a tough labor work that includes hard physical work. Despite such hard work of a long week, his father rises early in the Sunday morning to make his home warm with his ‘cracked’ and ‘ached’ hands.
- Here we have got the beauty of figures of speech. We have received alliteration here by using the words like ‘weekday weather’ and in 5th line ‘banked..blaze’. Here the poet has beautifully used the poetic device named alliteration. Repeated sound of any letter in any word is called alliteration and we can see this repeated sound of ‘b’ and ‘w’ in ‘banked fires blaze’ and ‘weekday weather’ respectively.
- These words are used in a way that they create a situation of cold and harsh environment around with the magic of words. Words like ‘cracked’ , ‘ached’, ‘banked’ and ‘blaze’ are used to produce the sounds of tough and chilled atmosphere.
Line – 5
‘Banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.’
- In this line, the first half line is the incomplete sentence of earlier sentence, i.e. ‘banked fires blaze’. It is used to denote the work of speaker’s father. The speaker’s father gets up early in the winter morning to blaze the fire in the house so that his family may get warm atmosphere when they wake up.
- Now let’s talk about the rest half line. The speaker says that no one in the house ever thanked his father for such a noble and gentle service that he rendered to his family.
- But this realization comes later in his life, when he is grown up and perhaps he himself has become a father. When he was young, even he did not realize the importance of his father’s service and never thanked him for it. At that time he did not understand that he or his family members should thank his old caring father.
- Thus we understand from this stanza that the poem has two faces, one is of the speaker’s past memory and the other is his realization of relations and emotions.
“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.”
Lines – 6 & 7:
‘I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call’
- Now comes the story of speaker himself. Up till now we were talking about the speaker’s father and his noble work and honesty for his responsibility, but now the attention of poem moves towards the speaker from the speaker’s father.
- When the speaker wakes up, he finds the cold as an object which is ‘splintering and breaking’. Here the poet has used figurative speech by using these metaphors. It literally means to touch something which is tangible and which can be broken easily. But the actual meaning of these words is different.
- Here the poet shows his literary sense of description by using these poetic words. Cold is not any object which can be broken in pieces but the poet wants to say that his father wakes up early and blazes the fire in the house. This way he breaks the splintering cold.
- The speaker actually enjoys the prince’s royal life. He says that when the rooms were warm enough to move around in the house without warm coat or sleepers, only then he gets up.
- His father is so careful that he calls the speaker only after the room gets warm. What a beautiful and comfortable luxury the speaker had enjoyed!
‘And slowly I would rise and dress’
- After enjoying the royal luxury given by his father, the speaker wakes up slowly from the bed and gets ready perhaps for church as it is the Sunday.
‘Fearing the chronic angers of that house.’
- Now the poet takes us in a different direction turning the poem in a different way. Up till now we were enjoying the portrayal of the speaker’s father given by the speaker as an ideal and self sacrificing father.
- But now suddenly the poem takes a turn. This line shows that this poem is not about the praise story of the speaker’s father. We see from this line that something unusual is happening in this house.
- There is some anger in the atmosphere of house. The poet has used ‘chronic angers of that house’.
- We can interpret this phrase in two ways. There are two possibilities in the house. First is that may be the speaker’s family members are always in angry mood and therefore the atmosphere of whole house is hyper even in the morning.
- Second possibility is that the house itself is angry and its walls are fearsome. If this possibility is true, then the poet has used personification here by showing the walls of the house as living entity.
- The case may be either, but one thing for sure was that the anger was chronic and it was somehow permanent. We can now realize that the speaker’s family was not a royal family living in prosperity of all types.
“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?”
‘Speaking indifferently to him,
Who had driven out the cold
And polished my good shoes as well’
- This line shows that the speaker had some problem with his father and he had no fair communication with his father at that time. He speaks to his father ‘indifferently’.
- At the same time he also realizes his father’s selfless service. He says that ‘who had driven out the cold’. This way he understands that his father has removed the chilled cold atmosphere of the house and made it warmer for his family.
- He also remembers that his dear dad has polished his good shoes for him to wear after dressing well. Yet the speaker is not so well with him.
- Perhaps the speaker is suffering from the chronic anger pain that he had mentioned in line 9. And may be this anger was related to his father and that is why he was not able to maintain his good and warm relation with his father who had made the room warm for him.
- When the speaker grows up, he realizes that though his father was angry and had hard nature, he was a loving and caring father. But all these realization comes only when the speaker is grown up man.
‘What did I know, what did I know
Of love’s austere and lonely offices?’
- Line 13 is the climax or say crux of the poem. After reading or passing through the whole poem, our heart weeps at this line!
- The speaker is now a grown up man who has seen so many adversities and hard realities of life and circumstances. He has now understood the subtle and hidden love of his father under his angry nature.
- And finally it is the stage of realization, where he feels guilty for his action, i.e. ‘speaking indifferently’ to his father and not valuing the work he did for his family.
- Using the same phrase two times by saying ‘what did I know’, the speaker expresses the intensity of his guilt and helplessness. And it seems like the speaker’s father is not alive now and the speaker has deep feeling of gratitude towards him as if he feels that if I could realize this before his father when he was with him.
- Line 14 represents the true and pure form of love. Words like ‘austere’ and ‘lonely’ reveal the real face of pure love. Depth of love is not expressed by hugs and kisses only but actual love is ‘austere’ or harsh. It is very tough job to maintain your love. For that you have to give so many sacrifices and also pay a very high price sometimes. It is not everybody’s cup of tea.
- True love is to wake up at blueblack morning and blazing fire for the family. It is also as ‘lonely’ as to break the cold with fire when your whole family is sleeping and you are serving them silently without letting them know. And the true exam comes when nobody notices your love for them and also don’t thank you for your noble and selfless service.
- Here the word ‘office’ is also very significant because it is used with another contradictory word ‘love’. So we can understand that in this line ‘office’ is used as duty or say responsibility or worship for family and for their welfare.
Thus we come to the conclusion of this poem that though this poem is not purely in the form of sonnet, it has a shadow of sonnetish form as it is based on the love of a son and his father or say belated realization of a son regarding the love that his father had rendered to him and his family.
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