Ballads of Remembrance by Robert Hayden

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In 1962 Robert Hayden wrote a collection of poems entitled Ballads of Remembrance. This collection is comprised of 36 poems that are separated into 4 groups. Each group refers to a different focus of remembrance; for example, one group focuses on the struggle of African Americans in terms of finding identity and a sense of transcendence. "Those Winter Sundays" is part of the group of poems that focuses on remembrances of Hayden’s childhood, past, and personal struggles.

Hayden had an extremely harsh and conflicted childhood. His parents were divorced at a young age, and his mother left him with a foster family in Detroit whose name, Hayden, he ended up adopting. He grew up in a very poor neighborhood called Paradise Valley, which was not a "paradise" at all. He had separate issues with his foster mother and father, who were both stern people. His father encouraged Robert to gain an education in order to lift himself out of poverty. Yet, at the same time, his father found it difficult to communicate with his foster son, who always had his head in a book or was constantly studying.

The lack of verbal communication between his father and himself can be seen in his poem "Those Winter Sundays." The overall impression of the poem is that love can be communicated in other ways than through words; it can be communicated through everyday, mundane actions. For example, in the poem, the father awakens on "Sundays too" to warm the house with a fire and polish his sons shoes. There is a sense of coldness in the beginning of the poem through the lines:

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold.

Hayden’s father is not only bringing physical warmth to him by making the fire; he is also bringing spiritual warmth to him. By the end of the poem, the reader feels an overall sense of warmth as the poet comes to a better understanding of his father’s unappreciated actions.

In terms of Romanticism, the idea of transcendence seems to be present in the poem in regard to the fact that the father-son relationship is beyond words. The relationship exists, but it is difficult to articulate. Also the idea that Hayden is rising to a deeper understanding of his relationship with his father is present. There are lines in the poem that state:

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

And slowly I would rise and dress.

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The literal image of rising and awaking could possibly be mirroring Hayden’s rise to a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the relationship (Hatcher 275). There is also a sense of nostalgia in this poem in the lines:

What did I know, what did I know

Of love’s lonely and austere offices?

Hayden is looking back on is childhood and wishing that he could have been aware of his father’s actions at the time they were occurring. There is a sense of desire and loss. However, Hayden does not seem to be completely romanticizing his childhood. He still refers to the "chronic angers" in the house. He is aware that everything was not perfect in his home. Yet, he is also aware that love was present there.


Works Cited:

Hatcher, John. From The Auroral Darkness: The Life and Poetry of Robert

Hayden. Oxford: George Ronald, 1984.


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