Robert Hayden was born Asa Bundy Sheffey in 1913. His parents separated when he was young, and his mother gave him to her next-door neighbors, William and Sue Ellen Hayden, to raise. Hayden attended Detroit City College, but was forced to leave one credit shy of graduation due to financial hardship. He found a job with the Work Progress Administration as a researcher of black history and culture, and published his first book of poems, Heart-Shape in the Dust, in 1940. He attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, where the famed poet W.H. Auden became his mentor. In 1966, Hayden was named Senegal’s Poet Laureate. A decade later, he became the first African-American appointed as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position now better known as Poet Laureate). Hayden taught and published until his death in 1980.
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?