One of my favorite poems is “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. Take a look:
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?
I’ll skip the analysis of why this poem works so well. It’s a guy poem – a son’s growing to appreciate his father. I can relate – to the father, of course. I know, I know – my hands are not “cracked” and the cold is not “blueback,” at least not indoors. And I don’t build a morning fire or shine Kim’s shoes. What I do in fulfilling “love’s austere and lonely offices” (brilliant choice of words, Robert!) is go out and feed the birds. They do appreciate it, and so does Kim, as she told me more than once. I am and have been well thanked. Come to think of it, I can’t think of why I identify with the father in the poem.
I need my routines, my discipline. Getting this blog out on Thursdays in a self-imposed discipline that for some reason I take very seriously. Feeding the birds every morning is also a joyful discipline – getting out the various bags of seeds, putting on coat and boots, sweeping snow off the porch and steps, then filling feeders and sprinkling seeds on rocks. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks now, but it adds a welcome structure to my life. Someone, it might have been Tolstoy (help me, readers!) defined freedom as being “at ease in harness,” and I like that. I feel free when I choose to feed the birds, and for some reason, the colder and windier the better. The chickadees and nuthatches now greet me, landing inches from my face. The woodpeckers and blue jays are still shy.
One of the many striking features of Hayden’s poem is the connection in the last line between “love” and “lonely.” Really? Isn’t love supposed to be the opposite of lonely? But I get it. Most guys, me included, usually don’t express their love by saying it. We do stuff, sometimes alone.
I have other routines as well to give my life structure and discipline now that retirement has removed the discipline of my job. I make the bed. I make our coffee. I take out the trash. I dry the dishes. I drive the car. I vacuum the center area of several rooms. That’s about it. Kim does the rest. I thought about designing a t-shirt for myself that reads, “higher maintenance than I appear.”
Kim, of course, performs her “austere and lonely offices” all the time, but nobody writes poems about that – not yet, anyway. But when a guy lights a fire and shines his kid’s shoes, it’s a big deal. But it is a big deal. All of it. It’s what you do when you are alive.
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