Normally, no matter the classes I teach each semester, I always do a poetry unit. Often, I break the poems up either by time period or by theme, and when I do it by theme, I always include a section on parents/sons and parents/daughters. I tend to change the poems up every year and have included work by Natasha Tretheway, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Toi Derricotte, Theodore Roethke, among others. But no matter how I change the unit, I always include “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden, one of the poet’s most famous works, and also one of my favorite American poems.
Like me, a product of an economically depressed, blue-collar coal mining town, my students always relate to the poem. No matter the semester or the type of students, I always get a positive reaction to the poem. The students can relate to the father’s labor, the way he starts the fire, warms the home, polishes the son’s shoes, and yet, expects no thank yous. The poem is beautiful and tender, rich in its language in just 14 short lines. In a lot of ways, it makes me think of and remember my father, dead 10 years come February. He too labored hard but did not expect praise, even though he picked me up from school daily and like my mother, spent years working to carve out a good life for his kids.
I encourage you on this Father’s Day to click the link to the poem and enjoy it. Here’s another link, one to a short audio podcast from The Poetry Foundation on “Those Winter Sundays.” It includes a recording of Hayden reading the poem, some background on him, and analysis by another favorite poet of mine, Terrance Hayes.
Finally, I’ll end this blog post with a link to one of my poems, “Waiting Room,”. Enjoy, and Happy Father’s Day!