1. The family can’t afford to (or chooses not to) heat the house during the night; apparently their heat comes from a wood or coal stove. This doesn’t necessarily suggest poverty, maybe only frugality.
2. Because the speaker fears the “chronic angers” (line 9) of the house, they must come from the family’s interpersonal relationships. They could suggest petty quarreling or traumatic abuse. Readers don’t know if the child is the only one in the home who feels/fears those angers.
3. The past tense gives the poem a tone of reminiscence and regret. As an adult remembering childhood events, the speaker has the luxury of subjective distance as well as the soft blur that often collects around such memories. The past tense also ameliorates the discomfort I might feel as a reader encountering a poem about family dysfunction.
4. The repetition does provide emphasis. When I “hear” the poem, the first “What did I know?” (line 13)sounds almost like a throwaway line, a cliché. Yet it seems to jar the second “What did I know?” (13) from the speaker as the import of that rhetorical question becomes less rhetorical and elicits deeper reflection. The emphasis changes little from one question to the next. Instead, a slight pause between the two and a slower statement of the second give the line its impact.
5. Polishing the “good shoes” (line 12) suggests church for the son, but not necessarily for the father. Taking the time away from work to attend church service might be untenable or perhaps irresponsible in the father’s eyes—acceptable for the rest of the family, but not for him.
6. That line starkly contrasts with the rest of the poem in that it’s more lyrical and more formal. That clash mirrors the emotions of the speaker, who was naïve and unappreciative as a child but has since grown wistful and regretful. By ending the poem with that line, Hayden reminds readers that the slights we visit upon others are, to some extent, indelible. By using the word offices, Hayden plays with the connotations of offices as the duties or roles assigned to an individual as well as the beneficial acts one person does for others.