Boy at the Window by Richard Wilbur is an emotive poem which plays on childish emotions that we all feel memories of from our own childhood. In doing this, Wilbur is able to engage his reader by invoking past emotions and memories. This is compounded by the poet’s ability to write in a conversational manner which flows and allows the reader the chance to comprehend the words, whilst accessing their own interpretations of them. The poem’s layout is deliberately conventional because the poet intends to play on the readers’ memory and emotion, rather than creating mental images per se. Wilbur does this when in the opening lines of the first stanza, he says:
“Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.”
The effect of this enjambment (where the line runs on) is to create a conversational tone – one which the reader feels comfortable with, as if the poet is telling a story and recalling a memory. The effect of this on the reader is to recall their own similar memories and this enhances the reader’s ability to understand the purpose of the poem.
That said, the poet does use a number of poetic techniques to further this emotional involvement. In the first stanza, Wilbur uses personification to help bring the snowman to life:
“The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a God-forsaken stare.”
The effect of this is to give the snowman life which is designed to invoke a deeper reaction in the reader: if the snowman is real then his fate seems all the more doomed. The personification is continued throughout the poem. In stanza two, Wilbur states that:
“The man of snow is, nonetheless, content.
having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.”
A snowman is not a real person and, as such, it is incapable of being ‘content’ or ‘moved.’ By personifying the snowman, the poet is creating a real relationship between the young boy at the window and the snowman. The poet is aiming to create a real character whose death is sad – the intention is to transcend our adult understanding of how snowmen aren’t real, and invoke the child-like feeling of how it is sad when a snowman ‘dies’. In doing this, the reader becomes emotionally involved with the words of the poem.
The effect of the poet’s use of poetic techniques, emotive language and conversational style of writing, is to draw the reader in. The poem’s similarity to everyday speech causes there to be a link between the poem and an everyday experience that the vast majority of people have experienced at one time in their lives. By using an informal style of speech, the poet involves the reader as part of the poem, rather than excluding the reader: the effect is to encourage the reader to be a part of the experience of the poem, instead of being on the outside looking in – I was standing next to the little boy at the window. Whilst reading the poem, I was made to recall my own feelings of sadness when, as a child, my snowman was left to melt quietly in the garden; the excitement of waking up each morning to check if he was still there or not. In doing this, Wilbur draws in his reader and forces them to engage with the poem on a deeper level: the reader is the little boy at the window.