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?

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9 Comments

Filed under imagination

9 responses to “Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

  1. Dee

    Thank you. This brought back so many memories of my Dad, and the way he lit the fire each day, and polished the shoes of his nine children, lining them up proudly on a piece of old newspaper before he went out to work long hours, with cardboard covering up the holes in his own shoes. And I never said “Thank you”. What did I Know?

  2. I love that poem. Thank you for reading and posting it!

  3. I love this poem and have taught it to my students. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is beautiful! The art piece and the poem. Even in the traditional sense of textile work, this is stunning and wrought through with meaning. Thank you for sharing.

  5. It took me far too long to recognize the graciousness of my now-late father-in-law, who cleaned the kitchen every night after dinner for my dear mother-in-law who now lives with us. I finally took over his mantle a year after his passing when it became clear to me that I must minister to my wife and family in this same, quiet way. A clean kitchen greets all in the morning, and hot coffee brewed and at the ready for the later risers meets nose and tongue. I never realized how important these rituals are, and how much they would help me focus on God.

  6. Pingback: An Austere Love – Barnstorming

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