“Boy at the Window” by Richard Wilbur
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The Man of Snow
How often do people get into arguments about one person’s beliefs versus another’s? In Richard Wilbur’s “Boy at the Window,” we see a boy and a snowman, looking at each other with pity because of their surroundings. This poem was particularly engaging for me because of the content, the sudden burst of humor in a serious poem, and the rhyme and meter.
The poem is about differences in perception and misunderstanding. As a child, the boy cannot understand that a snowman would prefer to be outside in the dark, cold, winter night. He knows comfort is in his home, warm and loved, and wants his snowman to be comfortable as well. The snowman, of course, would melt or “die” if he were to sit next to the fire. The real touching point is not only that the child fears for the snowman, but that the snowman pities the child for knowing fear when he is surrounded by “Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear” (Clugston, 2010). Hearing the audio clip provided with the textbook Journey into Literature provided background for the poem. Wilbur was witnessing his son, wondering why his snowman could not come inside and join them (Clugston, 2010). Hearing this background was both beneficial and detrimental to my understanding of the poem. On one hand, it was easier to imagine a young boy having these worries, rather than some abstract deeper meaning. On the other, however, once I heard that, I found that it was near impossible to think about the poem having a deeper meaning. After all, the poet said it was about an actual boy looking out of an actual window at an actual snowman, so how could it possibly be about man in an over-industrialized world, a boy refusing to grow up, or a comparison of civilized man and primitive man, as some people claim (Elisa, Reza, & Kim, 2008)? According to Alan Nadel, Wilbur uses children often in his poetry to express openness to change and transition, as well as sparks for inspiration and imagination (Nadel, 1978).
This poem has a serious tone, but line ten provides a burst of comic relief, which is refreshing. I am not even sure I would have caught that bit of humor without listening to a performance of the piece and hearing the audience laugh. “The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,/ Having no wish to go inside and die” does not seem like a funny line, but when the poet read the piece, the emphasis and tone in his voice provided the context to hear the humor. The boy wants the snowman to come inside where he is comfortable, but, silly boy, a snowman would melt if he were to sit nice and warm by the fire. It is refreshing to hear a poem that does not take itself so seriously.
Finally, I have always been more engaged by poetry that has some sort of rhyme and rhythm. The poem does not have to be a strict sonnet or follow any specific structure, but in general, a structured poem is more interesting to me. This poem is written in two stanzas with eight lines each, and ten syllables per line. There is a rhyme scheme in each stanza, with the first and fourth lines, second, third, fifth, and seventh lines, and sixth and eighth lines rhyming respectively (ABBABCBC). The cadence of the lines allows a smooth flow of words, allowing reading to come more naturally.
The content, surprising humor, and structure of “Boy at the Window” made the Richard Wilbur poem very appealing, interesting, and engaging. They allowed me to see the world outside the window as though I were the young boy, fearful for the snowman who pities the child. They also remind all readers that what you think is best for another may not always be the case, and to take each individual’s perspective into account when making decisions that affect a group.
Clugston, R.W. (2010). Journey into Literature. Retrieved from http://content.ashford.edu/books/
Elisa, Reza, & Kim. (2008, December 18). Analysis and comments on “A Boy at the Window” [Online forum message]. Retrieved from http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/Richard-Wilbur/17582/comments/2
Nadel, A. (1978). Roethke, Wilbur, and the vision of the child: Romantic and Augustan in modern verse. The Lion and the Unicorn 2(1), 94-113. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from Project MUSE database.