Sunday, April 01, 2007

Poem: Robert Hayden

Since it's National Poetry Month, here's one of my favorite poems, by poet Robert Hayden, which I'd loved for years and which Michael S. Harper finally got me to memorize years ago, when Cave Canem held its summer workshop retreats in Esopus, New York, at Mount Saint Alphonsus.

It hasn't left my head since, and I even recited it just last week to Crystal Williams's class. The poem's statement used to push me towards tears, though now I can handle it okay, but the final two lines of the final stanza (or pentastich) never cease to awe me.

(And to honor the month, please pick a book of poetry or a poet, and read at least one poem once a week, very slowly, aloud, and listen to the language, let it reside in your ears and body, and then in the space around you. And then urge at least five people you know, whether they read poetry or not, to do the same. Just one poem, once a week, for this month. See how many people take you up on the suggestion.)


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?

By Robert Hayden, "Those Winter Sundays" from Angle of Ascent: New and Collected Poems. Copyright © 1962, Robert Hayden.

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