Robert Hayden

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

:: Poet Home :: Poetry :: Short Stories :: Contact ::
See Bob Hayden for the USA Hockey referee
See Geek Code for the related Robert Hayden
See Robert Haydn for the anime character of the same name

Robert Hayden (August 4, 1913 - February 25, 1980) was an American poet, essayist, and educator.


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Bibliography
  • 4 External links


Born as Asa Bundy Sheffey, Robert Hayden grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Born to a struggling couple, Ruth and Asa Sheffey (they separated soon after his birth), Hayden was taken in by a foster family, Sue Ellen Westerfield and William Hayden, and grew up in a Detroit ghetto nicknamed "Paradise Valley." The Haydens' perpetually contentious marriage, coupled with Ruth Sheffey’s competition for young Hayden's affections, made for a traumatic childhood. Witnessing fights and suffering beatings, Hayden lived in a house fraught with 'chronic angers' whose effects would stay with the poet throughout his adulthood. His childhood traumas resulted in debilitating bouts of depression which he later called "my dark nights of the soul".

Because he was nearsighted and slight of stature, he was often ostracized by his peer group. As a response both to his household and peers, Hayden read voraciously, developing both ear and eye for transformative qualities in literature. He attended Detroit City College (Wayne State University), and left in 1936 to work, for the Federal Writers' Project, where he researched black history and folk culture.

He was raised as a Baptist, but converted to the Bahá'í Faith during the early 1940s after marrying a Bahá'í, Erma Inez Morris. He is one of the best-known Bahá'í poets and his religion influenced much of his work.

After leaving the Federal Writers' Project in 1938, marrying Erma Morris in 1940, and publishing his first volume, Heart-Shape in the Dust (1940), Hayden enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1941 and won a Hopwood Award there.

In pursuit of a master's degree, Hayden studied under W. H. Auden, who directed Hayden's attention to issues of poetic form, technique, and artistic discipline. After finishing his degree in 1942, then teaching several years at Michigan, Hayden went to Fisk University in 1946, where he remained for twenty-three years, returning to Michigan in 1969 to complete his teaching career.

He died in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1980, age 66.


Hayden was elected to the American Academy of Poets in 1975. From 1976 - 1978, Hayden was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the position which in 1985 became the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Hayden's most famous and most anthologized poem is Those Winter Sundays, which deals with the memory of fatherly love and loneliness.

Other famed poems include The Whipping (which is about a small boy being severely punished for some undetermined offense), Middle Passage (inspired by the events surrounding the United States v. The Amistad affair), Runagate, Runagate, and Frederick Douglass.

Hayden’s influences included Wylie, Cullen, Dunbar, Hughes, Bontemps, Keats, Auden,and Yeats. Hayden’s work often addressed the plight of African Americans, usually using his former home of Paradise Valley slum as a backdrop, as he does in the poem Heart-Shape in the Dust. Hayden’s work made ready use of black vernacular and folk speech. Hayden wrote political poetry as well, including a sequence on the Vietnam War.

On the first poem of the sequence, he said, “I was trying to convey the idea that the horrors of the war became a kind of presence, and they were with you in the most personal and intimate activity, having your meals and so on. Everything was touched by the horror and the brutality and criminality of war. I feel that's one of the best of the poems.”


  • Selected Poems by Robert Hayden. NY: October House 1966.
  • Words in the Mourning Time: Poems by Robert Hayden. London: October House, 1970
  • Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems by Robert Hayden. NY: Liveright, 1975
  • American Journal: Poems by Robert Hayden. NY: Liveright Pub. Corp., 1982
  • Collected Prose: Robert Hayden. Ed. Frederick Glaysher. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 1984.
  • Those Winter Sundays hermeneusis by ex-Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky
  • Academy of American Poets listing
  • Robert Hayden: His Day Is Now! A Defense Of Hayden's Verse
  • Review of The Collected Poems of Robert Hayden
  • About Hayden's Life And Career
  • Online Selection of Poems
  • Audio of Hayden's poem Soledad
  • "On 'Middle Passage"": excerpts of essays analyzing Haydon's deeply ironic "anti-epic"
  • This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from a Wikipedia article. To access the original click here.
    Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
    under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
    or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
    with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
    A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU
    Free Documentation License".