How Do You Help Fight the Blueblack Cold? “Those Winter Sundays” and Gratitude

9 11 2012

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?



In November, many of us reflect a little more on what we have and what we are grateful for.  One of my favorite poems about gratitude, or probably more accurately, regret over ingratitude, is “Those Winter Sundays”.


The speaker, an adult, reflects back with regret on the way he and the rest of his family treated their father while he was growing up.  His father was a hard-working man.  Simply by using the word “too” in the first line, we know that for this father, every day was a work day, even including the “day of rest”. 


His hands ached from his labors, but still, he got up before the rest of the family to warm the house.  He fought that blueblack cold alone till it splintered and warmed.  Only when the house warmed did he wake his family.


Martel and van Over have friends for dinner an...

Spintering the cold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one thanked him.


In fact, they were all pretty indifferent to him.

 This man gave and gave, and they took and took.


I think it is possible that the speaker is being a little bit too hard on himself here.  Children are self-centered by nature, and I think if we are being honest, most of us are pretty horrified when we think about what brats we were to our parents at least at some point in our youth. 


I, myself, was pretty bratty till my late twenties.  My mother and I can laugh about it now. 


When he says, “what did I know, what did I know/ of love’s austere and lonely offices”, I believe that he really didn’t know.  So, how can he blame himself for something that he didn’t understand at the time?


What is most important here is that he realizes it now. 


He can’t go back and change things that are long past, but he can do something about it.  He can recognize those sacrifices, both small and large, that people are making for him now.  Plus, maybe now he’ll be more ready and able to make similar offerings of “love’s austere and lonely offices”  for his family, and do so without feeling the need to be thanked. 


Do you have someone who splinters the cold for you? I hope you do.


Or maybe a better question for reflection is how do you splinter the cold for those you love?

Instead of feeling like a jerk for all the crappy things you did as a child after reading this poem, try to think of all the ways you can help someone else fight off that blueblack cold. 

I don’t know anyone who isn’t cold.   

It’s not Him, it’s You. Reflections on the World’s Best Love Poem.

22 10 2012

Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

any experience, your eyes have their silence:

in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,

or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me

though i have closed myself as fingers,

you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens

(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and

my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,

as when the heart of this flower imagines

the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals

the power of your intense fragility: whose texture

compels me with the color of its countries,

rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes

and opens; only something in me understands

the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

By: e e cummings

A few days ago, a friend and I were having a wine infused chat and discussion slowly turned to a recent development in a very old love story.

She found out her first love was talking to one of our mutual friends.

Now, before I go on, let me stress that my friend is a truly happily married woman. She would never consider a life with the guy from her past, but yet somehow, twenty years or so later, it still matters that he is talking to someone we know.

Is that crazy?

She wonders why she still cares, and if this means that she could still harbor secret feelings for this guy.

She wanted to know what I thought about the whole thing.

I told her that I definitely do not believe that she isn’t carrying a flame, and it’s certainly not a shameful feeling.

What she is experiencing isn’t a yearning for an individual person; it’s a longing for a time when things were exciting in a more tangible way: A time when the insanity of first love with all its mystical powers had her by the throat. A time when she, quite literally, lost her mind to love for the first time.

Sure, life is still exciting in so many ways as we get older and more grow in mature, deep, and meaningful relationships with our spouses and family. But it is an undeniably different type of excitement.

Most love poetry makes me gag. Well, that’s not fair. Cheesy love poetry makes me gag, and I have a very low tolerance for cheese. This love poem, however, is one of my favorite poems of all time. We have a long past together, this poem and I.

When I was sixteen, I copied this poem over and over in hopes of memorizing it. It was all over my brown paper bag-covered text books. (I did this instead of learning math.) Honestly, I think I loved this poem almost more than the guy I thought I loved at the time.

Even though I didn’t fully understand the poem back then, my instincts about its perfection were right. If someone had asked me to explain it, I would’ve stumbled around for words and wouldn’t have been able to. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to write an essay on it or anything like that.

Now, as I have matured as a reader, I understand it much more, and find it to be the perfect poem about the insanity, beauty, and confusion of first love.

For me, it is a love poem to first love itself, not to a specific individual.

The speaker in this poem is on a journey to somewhere he has never been—crazy in love. He is completely mystified and awe-struck at his love’s ability to control him. He communicates this by using confusing imagery like talking about eyes having silence, for example.

He compares himself to a rose, which gets my “fromage sensor” going a bit. I mean, come on. A rose in a love poem? But, false alarm, this rose metaphor is completely unconventional.

Rose et amour....rosa y amor ....rose d'amour ...

(Photo credit: photosylvia / silabox)

The speaker is a tightly closed rose bud that his love can open up petal by petal to make him in full bloom, but just as she has the power to open him, she also has the power to shut him up tightly.

There’s the rub.

Sure, first love is awesome, but it also has the power to hurt deeply, and it usually does.

“nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility”

Intense fragility. That’s a great paradox for first love. It is so strong yet so very fragile.

The “you” here is first love in general, not a specific person. First love brings “death and forever with each breathing”.

Death and forever—another great paradox to explain first love.

What a roller coaster ride it is! Combine that with the fact that first love typically happens during a most hormone-surging time in our lives, and we wonder why the memory sticks with us?

Come on, of course it stays with us!

The last stanza is my favorite. The speaker is resigned to the mystical power that first love has on him. There is no way to communicate the way he feels, which he expresses by using another unconventional image with “the voice of your eyes”.

He is a traveler to an unknown land. He’s lost, and he doesn’t understand the culture or what to do next. So, his poem about this feeling is equally confusing at times, but it still somehow leaves the reader with the message that first love is beautiful and confusing. It makes us feel powerful and powerless at the same time.

It’s intense and there is no way to erase that from our memories. And we shouldn’t want to erase it either.

It is about the experience of the first falling that you are remembering.

Do you have a favorite love poem? A poem about first love, maybe? I would love to hear your thoughts.