Religious imagery in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”

Religious imagery in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”

Response Paper Guidelines

The Response Paper is a brief (2 double-spaced pages) analysis of one specific idea or element of a class reading (i.e., religious imagery in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”).

A successful response paper has three components: 1) a clear interpretive thesis about your issue or idea 2) support for your thesis with close analysis of one or two specific pieces of evidence, and 3) some explanation as to why the subject with which you are dealing matters (i.e., how does Hayden’s use of religious allusions ampli$’ his depiction of fatherly love?).

Response papers are designed to do a number of things. First and foremost, the response papers allow you to test out your ideas about the novels and the critical readings of the course before you formalize those ideas in your close-reading and research papers.

Second, the response papers help me keep a gauge on your progress in the course. If you are having difficulties understanding or keeping track of what we are up to in the course, I can identify those difficulties and address them immediately.

Finally, the response papers are designed to facilitate the in-class conversations we have by asking you to engage fully with the texts we are reading on your own before we engage in larger conversations in the classroom.

An effective response paper begins with a succinct (one or two sentence) statement of your argument. Limit your first paragraph to one or two sentences! For the most part, do not write long introductions to your response papers; you don’t have the space for them.

Every argument, however small, needs support. Following your thesis sentence/paragraph, you should present one or two specific pieces of evidence for it from the text(s) you are considering. Such evidence should almost always include a citation from the text, with your analysis of that cited passage. In your response papers you should have one or two paragraphs of supporting

argument; as a general rule of thumb, each paragraph should focus upon one idea only, and each idea should be supported by one or two specific pieces of evidence. Do not summarize the plot of a story as evidence: refer briefly to an element of the plot and then analyze it.

The best response papers conclude by offering to the reader some sense of why your thesis matters. If the reader accepts your argument, what insight have you provided for him or her about the novel or critical work as a whole, or about this course? How does the specific evidence which you have analyzed resonate with some larger issues of the work or the course?


Sample Response Paper

Robert Hayden’s poem, “Those Winter Sundays,” depicts the speaker’s conflicted feelings towards his father. Hayden uses religious allusions to help amplify the sacrificial nature of the father’s love.

The speaker’s father is depicted as a silent, forbidding, almost god-like figure. In fact,

Hayden depicts the daily routine of stoking the fire almost as a religious ritual. The father wakes “early” (1) and dresses in the “blueblack cold” (2). The synaesthesia blending sight (“blueblack”) and touch (“cold”) evokes both pain and the frigidity of the weather. The father suffers to perform his morning ritual, this daily sacrifice, and “no one every thanked him” (5). Yet he does it out of love or devotion or responsibility. The act of building a fire almost becomes like an act of prayer and service.

In the poem’s final stanza, this religious imagery of sacrifice and devotion are further amplified. The father has also polished his son’s shoes, presumably to have them ready for church

(12). This act of service is depicted as a religious ritual akin to building the fire. It is meant as a gesture of love and duty to someone else. Hayden further emphasizes the religious quality to these fatherly acts by describing them as “love’s austere and lonely offices” (14). “Offices” can be defined as religious duties or responsibilities. The father becomes a religious figure almost like Jesus. He performs humble acts of service—building a fire, shining shoes—for his loved ones, even when no one cares.

Perhaps Hayden is using religious imagery to equate fatherly love to Fatherly love. God may appear cold, distant, and angry, but he also cares for his children, much like the speaker’s father cares for his.

Works Cited

Hayden, Robert. “Those Winter Sundays.” Handout.


Choose one of the following poems:




Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down


Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.


Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney, “Digging” from Death of a Naturalist. Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, All rights reserved.


Walt Whitman, “A Noiseless Patient Spider”


A noiseless patient spider, 1

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.


And you O my soul where you stand, 6

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Answer preview………………………….

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