Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden was one of the first poets whose work I was introduced to. Back in college, I wrote a paper on his poem, Those Winter Sundays. The Poem hit me close to home because one of the things it does successfully is underscore the tension between father and son, which I was experiencing a lot of the year I was introduced to his work. Hayden has remained in my mind because of that and because he, like myself, was adopted. He was born Asa Bundy Sheffy August 4, 1913 in Detroit. His parents separated when he was young leaving him to be raised by foster parents, who themselves had a tumultuous relationship. Hayden as a youngster was left very isolated, (relate!!) as he was small framed and quite nearsighted. By the time he got to University of Michigan he fell under the tutelage and influence of WH Auden, and Hayden remained at Michigan becoming a teaching fellow and the first African American member of their English Department.

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Hayden wrote a lot in regards to African American history, turning in legendary poems on Frederick Douglass and slavery in his well regarded Middle Passage. But he bristled at being labeled an African American poet. Words from poet William Meredith:

“Hayden declared himself, at considerable cost in popularity, an American poet rather than a black poet, when for a time there was posited an unreconcilable difference between the two roles. There is scarcely a line of his which is not identifiable as an experience of black America, but he would not relinquish the title of American writer for any narrower identity.”

Another poem of Hayden’s I adore is practically a haiku with its clean, elegant simplicity. Its entitled ‘Snow’:

Smooths and burdens,
endangers, hardens

Erases, revises.
Extemporizes

Vistas of lunar solitude.
Builds, embellishes a mood.

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