Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

image by Linda Richardson

image by Linda Richardson

For the 5th of December the poem I have chosen in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The image above, bodying forth so much of the poem, was created by Linda Richardson, who writes:

Sometimes a piece of art comes into your mind already complete. So it was with this work. I used the homely linen fabric as the base, and in the middle of the work there is a rip, a rift, burnt round the edges. Beneath that, orange paper glows at the centre. The fabric is stained and frayed and there are pine needles stitched into the work because they make excellent fire lighters. The text is taken from Bible pages, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11.) I embroidered the words, ‘What did I know’ onto the work and added some turquoise silk. There are also real ruby beads and one pearl.

For me, the poem addresses the perfectionist in us who would like home life to be an idyll of peace and love when in reality we are dealing with the warp and weft in the characters of the people we live with. Don’t we all relate in some way to ‘the chronic angers’? So often we neither understand nor appreciate, ‘love’s austere and lonely offices’, and I think of my own Dad who used to get up at five in the morning to do a post round before he opened his shop and post office in the village where I grew up in Yorkshire.

Whilst this work may not be beautiful in a traditional sense, I wanted to combine poor cotton threads and paper with ruby and pearl to make use of many different materials, just like the diversity of human experience. We know where some of the stains, rips and burns are in our lives and it is often our challenge to be enriched by the silk, the gems and the pearls of promise that we also find within ourselves and each other.

You can find you can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Those Winter Sundays

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?


Filed under literature, Poems

20 responses to “Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

  1. Kristyn

    This poem will always remind me of my dad, too. He is a hard working, “blue collar” man who came up rough and gave my sister and me stability he never had. It took me until adulthood to learn to recognize love in those “austere and lonely offices” of his, which I misinterpreted as grumpiness. Thank you for sharing the lovely image and reminding me of this poem. ♥

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks for sharing Kristyn

    • Darrell A. Harris

      I so love these penetrating and heartfelt insights into both the steady thankless grind of parenting and the ubiquitous ingratitude of its beneficiaries. Every house has its chronic propensities, whether they be anger or something other. We are all so much the richer for your wise and beautiful words, Malcolm. Thank you~

  2. Maggie

    What a poem this is. It’s impact is strongly felt today when I slept fitfully through the night as fires rage close by. Those firefighters come to mind working selflessly as I rested.

  3. So true … and how touchingly beautiful Linda’s artwork and reflection alongside this rich poem.

  4. JO

    Thanks for this poem.I thought immediately of a song by Foreigner. “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Oh Love what a mystery you are. Colossians 1:26

  5. Jean Dabinett

    Memories and late gratitude stirred. Mum and Dad up early; he for a long day plastering walls in cold half built houses; Mum to give him a sandwich lunch and flask of hot tea. At last, a cold motor bike journey home to a hot meal and fireside.
    Then, ah, poor Dad, a long soak in hot water to ease hands chapped by hours of cold and cement. And the same all week long.

  6. kzhooper .

    Your work is simply so profound and you are such a gift. Is there a FB link that is ma not seeing. I would love to share this with a bigger , broader readership. The art and the word and the audio are a stunning gift each day . I’d like to share the love.

    Advent blessings,

    Rev Kay Hooper, retired

  7. Tamara Newell

    How very true – and so beautifully (as usual) spoken as well as created in the art work. I wonder why it is that we are so driven toward peace and calm and so rarely in its grip. So few ways and people to help us achieve it and so many ways (and people) to derail it. My father might have called it “the law of the jungle”.

  8. My Father died over thirty years ago.Reading this poem took me back to where i lived. Where my lovely Dad lit the before he went to work at 6.30. Bitter swet memories of darling man

  9. I love this poem. And how is it that art can lead us to “love” the record of pain and sorrow that the great artists, poets, sculptors and all leave for us? Hayden transforms one of the universal sources of pain, the dysfunctional father-son relationship, into something not just bearable but also beautiful, just as Linda Richardson does with torn fabric. I still choke up every time I read those words, “What did I know, what did I know…”!

  10. Lisa Onbelet

    This is one of my favourite poems, even more now after the loss of my father three years ago. And to it, I suggest another by Canadian poet, Michael Ondaatje, called “Bear Hug.” Do you know it?

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