Certain poems were written about by many different people who wrote to the Favorite Poem Project. Perhaps the most striking instance was the large number of various, intense letters about this poem by Robert Hayden, the first African-American to hold the post that came to be called Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The poem does pack remarkable power into its 14 lines. The cogency of phrases like “the chronic angers of that house” seems related to the wide appeal that brought letters from people of so many different ages, professions, regions, ethnicities. Maybe the partial rhyme with “dress” adds to the phrase’s power: Certainly the poem demonstrates how like vowel and consonant sounds in an “unrhymed” poem can have tremendous effect. And the cold, ordinary word “offices” at the very end of the poem is like an icicle that touches the heart.—Robert Pinsky
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?