It’s the last day of April and April is #NationalPoetryMonth. So I wanted to share a poem by a poet that I just discovered, Robert Hayden.
Robert Hayden was an African-American poet who was born in Michigan. He had a tumultuous childhood. He was raised by a foster family after his parents separated. The families frequently fought with each other and Hayden often suffered abuse. He was also farsighted and was unable to participate in recreational activities, such as sports and teams. He was not fully accepted by his peers, as a result. His difficult childhood and unique vision led to his interest in reading. He immersed himself in literature, particularly poetry. Later, he studied for a time at Detroit City College, then left early to participate in the Works Progress Administration Federal Writing Project. He married in 1940 to Erma Morris (she was a pianist and a poet). He continued his education at the University of Michigan. He later taught at Fisk University after pursuing his Master’s degree. He was the first Black American to have the position of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Today this position would be called a Poet Laureate. Hayden never fully embraced being a ‘black poet,’ and considered himself an American poet, but many of his writings focused on notable African-Americans like Malcolm X and other African Americans from his “native Paradise Valley.” Learn more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hayden
Those Winter Sundays 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?
Read more here: https://poets.org/poem/those-winter-sundays
I love this poem. I read it at night, and it reminds me of my father and all the hard work that he put into raising and caring for us. Although my father raised me, sometimes I feel like I don’t fully know him. There is always a mystery to our parents. We are used to seeing them as “mom” or “dad,” but they were young people once who had and have their separate lives.
This poem paints such a vivid image in my head. I can see the father in the kitchen early in the dark, damp, cold morning, warming his hands, perhaps drinking coffee and preparing to go out into a colder world to provide for a family. This poem speaks to a sense of loneliness even in the presence of others to me. There also is a sense of rage or resentment that permeates. I think it highlights the complexity of a relationship and how one can both hurt and love someone and be hurt and loved by someone. I think back to how Hayden had such a traumatic childhood and the latent anger and resentment that must have caused, I can feel it very strongly in this poem.