Boy at the Window

Richard Wilbur

‘Boy at the Window’ by Richard Wilbur is a short poem exploring an interaction between a boy and a snowman. Through this interaction, an omniscient persona reveals the meaning of childhood innocence and the power of empathy.

Richard Wilbur

Nationality: American

Richard Wilbur was born in 1921 in New York City.

He was named the second poet laureate of the United States.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Empathy nurtures relationships

Themes: Love, Relationships

Speaker: An omniscient persona

Emotions Evoked: Compassion, Empathy, Sadness

Poetic Form: Octave

Time Period: 20th Century

'Boy at the Window' by Richard Wilbur tells of childhood innocence and the effect empathy can have on people. The poem uses seemingly simple and even ironic circumstances to explore the depth of human interaction.

Boy at the Window’ by Richard Wilbur is a poem about innocence and the power of empathy. An omniscient narrator relates the feelings of the two characters in the poem: the titular boy at the window and a snowman.

A short poem of only two stanzas, ‘Boy at the Window’ elaborates on the boy’s emotions in the first stanza and records the snowman’s response to them in the second stanza.


Boy at the Window’ by Richard Wilbur is a short poem portraying an emotional interaction between a boy and a snowman.

Boy at the Window’ by Richard Wilbur begins with the omniscient persona speaking in third person about a boy’s feelings. From the descriptions rendered in this stanza (“small boy”), one can tell the boy is a child. The persona zooms in on the boy’s emotions as he watches a “snowman” outside. The boy is clearly downcast as he weeps for the “man of snow,” who is doomed to spend a cold night alone.

In the second stanza, the speaker lets readers know that this “snowman,” who is apparently alive, is moved that the boy aches for what he perceives to be the snowman’s predicament. In response to the vulnerability shown by the boy, the snowman sheds a tear by the poem’s ending.


Boy at the Window’ by Richard Wilbur is a poem comprising two octets, that is, two eight-line stanzas. Each stanza has the rhyme scheme ABBA BCBC. ‘Boy at the Window’ has an interesting rhythm due to its mix of iambic pentameter and trochaic pentameter. This means that although every line is composed of ten syllables, the syllables in some lines are grouped in trochaic feet while others are read as iambs.

As is common among poets, Wilbur employs enjambment. However, he appropriately uses punctuation to indicate a pause or an end to a thought.

Literary Devices

  • Personification: The snowman is personified in the second stanza of the poem. He is given human attributes like feeling, crying, and even dying. Another instance of personification is found in stanza one, between lines 3 and 4. Here, the narrator gives the wind animate attributes as well.
  • Allusion: Line 8 of stanza one spots an allusion. The poet persona refers to the Christian faith when he speaks of “Adam” and “Paradise.” According to Christianity, “Adam” is the first man who disobeyed God and was cast out of the garden Eden, also called “Paradise.”
  • Parallelism: This literary device appears in stanza two, line eight. The repetition in “Such warmth, such light, such love…” is a form of parallelism. Wilbur enhances the poem’s rhythm where the word “such” repeats, followed by a particular part of speech: noun. This example of parallelism may also double as an example of consonance, seeing as the sound “ch” also repeats in this line.
  • Alliteration: The first line of the poem spots alliteration. The consonant sound “s” repeats in the words “seeing,” “snowman” and “standing.” This serves as a good hook for the poem.
  • Simile: Simile appears in the last line of stanza one. Here, the persona compares the look in the snowman’s eyes, from the boy’s point of view, to what must have been the look in Adam’s eyes when God sent him out of “Paradise.”

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Seeing the snowman standing all alone
As outcast Adam gave to Paradise.

The opening stanza of ‘Boy at the Window’ explores the boy’s perspective on the situation at hand. An omniscient persona burrows into the mind of this boy and interprets events as the boy sees them. The boy’s innocence is apparent from his desire to protect the snowman from the cold. He is not aware that the snowman is simply frozen water so he would melt anywhere that was not cold.

The child’s innocence reveals his compassion in line three. The empathy the boy displays in this line makes the stanza sad, even though the speaker tells his tale from an objective standpoint. The diction the persona uses to describe the cold outside stirs even more sadness in the poem. One may not realize when they, like the boy, begin to view the snowman as a human being deserving pity as well.

Besides the boy’s compassion, he also has the overactive imagination common among children. This is seen between lines six and eight. The child effectively personalizes this snowman up to the look in his eyes. At this point, the persona introduces an allusion, referring to “Adam,” the first man according to Christianity. The Christian faith says that due to Adam’s disobedience, God cast him out of “Paradise,” the garden of Eden. The persona imagines that Adam must have been downcast by this. They compare what they presume to have been the look in Adam’s eyes then to the look in the snowman’s eyes.

This stanza creates the perfect rhythm and rhymes to hook a reader, and the diction makes sure readers stay. Courtesy of the persona’s ability to capture both the physical setting and the emotions of the character involved, readers are able to follow the narrative. It also stirs nostalgia for any adult who once upon a time reasoned like the boy.

Stanza Two

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.

Stanza two runs parallel to the first, especially, and ironically, regarding perception. The irony in this stanza appears in the knowledge of the personalized snowman. This snowman, contrary to what one may expect, assumes the position of an adult in this narrative and offers a more realistic analysis of his situation. The second line reveals this and even introduces humor to the poem. He knows that in a warm house, he would quickly melt away.

The punchline is in line three. Here, the poem reveals its overarching theme: the power of empathy. The narrator reveals to readers how the snowman responds to the boy’s raw emotions. It is a beautiful moment that sends a powerful message to readers. It is as though the poem attempts to show just how far a little vulnerability in our human interactions can take us.

At first, the snowman seems to be on guard, untrusting, like many adults come to be as they grow older and harder. However, this last stanza, ‘Boy at the Window,’ shows how another human’s empathy can crack our hardened shells and makes us interact like children again: trustingly and lovingly.


When and where was ‘Boy at the Window’ published?

Boy at the Window’ was first published in a print edition of The New Yorker. It was printed in the issue of January 5, 1952, and can still be found in their archives. It was reprinted in the collection, Collected Poems in 2004.

Why did Richard Wilbur write ‘Boy at the Window’?

Like many poets, Wilbur’s personal life inspired a good number of his poems. In a poetry reading, Wilbur admitted that ‘Boy at the Window’ came to him courtesy of his son, Christopher, who, at the age of five, on a December afternoon, cried because the snowman he made could not join him and his family for dinner.

What is the tone and mood of the poem?

The elements of sadness, hopelessness and even realism constitute, overall, a sober mood. Despite this, the omniscient persona’s factual relation to events is given in an objective, almost stoic tone.

What are the themes in ‘Boy at the Window’?

The overarching themes are innocence and empathy. Both factors come into play in this poem as it explores another major theme: human interaction. Wilbur uses both virtues, which seem to be less and less remembered today, to remind people that virtues like this still have positive effects on people and by extension, the world. The speaker also explores the theme of vulnerability, as the child is not afraid to bare their heart in front of the snowman.

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Boy at the Window

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Richard Wilbur (poems)

Richard Wilbur

This poem is one of Wilbur's more popular poems. It is a signature poem in the sense of keeping Wilbur's familiar rhythm and theme of contrasting ideas. Richard Wilbur rendered a reading of this poem in his earlier days, thereby making it more memorable than most of his work.
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20th Century

This piece is more or less a family poem, as Wilbur wrote it for his son. It did not contribute to any major political or social movement in the 20th century but rather spoke to universally relatable emotions not marked by the times.
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This poem is popular among American literary society today courtesy of its universality and relatability. It has been reprinted a number of times ever since it first appeared in The New Yorker. Wilbur also rendered a reading of the poem at an event, making it more memorable.
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Though the theme of love is not addressed directly, the emotions and dispositions spoken of in this poem constitute love. The boy aches for his snowman because he loves the snowman, and the snowman returns the boy's feelings, evidently shedding a tear.
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The manner in which humans relate with one another forms the fundamental theme in 'Boy at the Window.' With this poem, Wilbur explores the possibility of actual humane interaction. He indirectly tells readers just how much relationships can improve if we show empathy and kindness to one another.
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Compassion is stirred in the hearts of readers as the omniscient narrator relates the boy's point of view. The boy's innocence begets compassion for the snowman to the extent of weeping. This emotion is powerful enough to touch the "hardened" snowman towards the end of the poem.
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This is the primary emotion in 'Boy at the Window.' The boy empathizes with what he perceives to be the current circumstance of the snowman, and the snowman responds to his expression of empathy.
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Sadness is the predominant emotion in the first stanza of the poem. The boy is sad that his snowman remains out in the cold while he stays inside. Though readers can tell that the snowman should remain in the cold, the description of the boy's emotions casts a gloomy shadow over this stanza, making it impossible not to feel as sad as the boy.
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Care is an expression of the boy's compassion in this piece. The boy cares for the snowman's situation and wants to help but seems helpless to do so. The snowman, on the other hand, is touched by the boy's expression and reacts to it.
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Stanza one relates a perspective too many people are familiar with: the perspective of a child. All the elements of perception are represented in the poem: the overactive imagination, the slightly skewed interpretation of events, and, of course, innocence. This has a nostalgic effect on the poem.
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Childhood innocence is a major highlight in the poem. The boy in the poem truly cares about things, even his snowman. By expressing the boy's innocence in stanza one, the poet sends a message to readers. Through 'Boy at the Window,' Wilbur indirectly questions the possibility of igniting our long-lost innocence as adults.
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Snow is not directly addressed in the poem. However, it lays a backdrop for the poem's setting. From the narrator's description, readers can tell the series of events that happened in the snow, possibly during the winter season.
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This poem comprises two stanzas, each one an octave/octet. The poem is traditional, with rhythm, meter, and rhyme schemes. Its beat is one of the things that hooks readers and makes the poem memorable.
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Anastasia Ifinedo Poetry Expert
Anastasia Ifinedo is an officially published poet. You can find her poems in the anthologies, "Mrs Latimer Had A Fat Cat" by Cozy Cat Press and "The Little is Much" by Earnest Writes Community, among others. A former poet for the Invincible Quill Magazine and a reviewer of poems on several writing platforms, she has helped—and continues to help—many poets like her hone their craft.

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