‘Waiting at the Window’ by A. A. Milne is a twenty-six line poem that is separated into couplets, or sets of two rhyming lines. Milne has chosen to give this piece a simple rhyming pattern of aa bb cc, and do on, alternating end sounds as he saw fit. It is very straightforward, emphasizing the pleasure of sounds over a complex style of syntax. From the beginning of the poem it is clear that Milne is directing this piece to children. A reader might also be aware that Milne is the author of the Winne-the-Pooh books also aimed at children. This might add to one’s preconception of what this piece will be.
The speaker is a child who is passing time at the window. It is not entirely clear what this child is waiting for until the final lines when the sun appears. They likely began their observation of the raindrops while looking out at the storm, hoping to see it clear. Their attention was drawn to the race of “John” and “James” as an alternative for the games they could be playing outside.
As is the case with most poetry for children, one does not have to be a child to enjoy this work. One of the poem’s most attractive features is the way it allows any reader to imagine a time when they too found pleasure in the simplest of natural events. Taking pleasure in common, usually overlooked events, is one of the main themes of this piece. The text also speaks to patience and imagination.
Everything the speaker describes after the first two lines has been embellished by their imagination. This child sees the world as much more that what it initially appears to be. It is likely that Milne was hoping to inspire a reader, young or old, to take the time to really view their own world.
One of the most important techniques used by Milne is that of repetition. It becomes especially prevalent in the second half of the poem when the speaker is narrating the rising action. The two raindrops are headed toward the end of their race and the speaker does not have time for details.The lines come one after another without a pause. A reader can look to lines 15-20 for the best examples of this. Due to the rapid nature of these lines Milne is able to add pressure to a situation that has nothing riding on it. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Waiting at the Window
‘Waiting at the Window’ by A. A. Milne contains a child’s narration of a race between two raindrops in the midst of a confining rainstorm.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that there are two raindrops on their window. They are racing to the bottom of the glass. Milne’s speaker names these drops John and James and proceeds to narrate their descent. They pass and then fall behind one another, often getting caught up in debris.
By the time the drops reach the bottom the sun is back and the child is free to leave the house.
Analysis of Waiting at the Window
The poem begins with the speaker introducing the race they are going to be focusing on for the rest of the piece. It is between “two drops of rain” that are “Waiting on the window-pane.” From these two lines a reader can interpret a lot about the setting and the mood of the speaker. Taken in tandem with the title, the window holds a prominent place in the poem.
Just as the raindrops are waiting on the window, the speaker is standing at the window waiting for the sky to clear. The title applies to both situations.
In the next two couplets the speaker names the two raindrops. It is important to this child that they have “different names.” One of these is “John” and the other “James.” Both are common names, perhaps the first the child thought of or ones which are directly related to his/her life. The desire to name everything, from raindrops to toys and imaginary friends is something infinitely recognizable and relatable. This is one of the features of the poem which likely connects to a reader’s own childhood.
In the next two lines the speaker sets out the stakes of the race. There is nothing on the line aside from knowing which raindrop is worst and which is best. Again, this is typical childlike behaviour. The stakes may not be important in the eyes of an adult reader or observer, but to the child this is as crucial as it gets.
At the beginning of the race the raindrop named “James” is “ooz[ing]” down the glass. A reader should imagine its form elongating and becoming more cumbersome to its desired speedy descent. Without a reason the speaker states that this is the raindrop he wants to lose.
The next two lines address the second raindrop. The speaker states, again without a clear reason, that “John” is the one he wants to win. A reader might be able to interpret from the details that there is something appealing about John “waiting to begin.”
In line 13 Milne begins to list out different features of the race in quick succession. The lines are short and describe what the two raindrops are doing as they race towards the bottom. James is slow, and then something “sticks to John.” There is something on the window that impedes “his” progress. The next two lines show both raindrops moving quickly. In the world of the speaker there is a great deal of pressure mounting. This pressure is transferred to the reader via the tension between these short lines.
The next two lines further the tension. John continues to plow down the window “pane.” While James has slowed down again because “he” has encountered “a sort of smear” just as “John” did before. Due to the “smear” the other raindrop is catching up.
The last three couplets conclude the race and pronounce John the winner. The speaker begins this section by wondering whether or not James is going “fast enough.” There is some “fluff” on the window that is stopping his progress. The barriers on the window panes are frequent.
While James was distracted “talking to a fly” John is able to go past. This is the point at which the speaker declares John the winner. At the same moment the clouds clear and the sun comes out. The race on the window pane successfully distracted the speaker from the rain. Now he/she can go outside, pleased with the winner of the race.