Richard Wilbur: Poems

Irony and Interpretation in Wilbur’s “Boy at the Window”

Richard Wilbur’s poem “Boy at the Window” describes a young boy looking at the snowman he has built outside his window at twilight. Noting the cold outdoor environment in which his snowman must spend the night, the boy weeps; however, the poem reveals that the snowman’s own reaction to his environment is quite different. As this discrepancy is the central tension driving the poem, one might assert that “Boy at the Window” is a poem about interpretation and misinterpretation. Though the reader expects the boy, as a rational, thinking human, to formulate an accurate understanding of the snowman, it is ironically the snowman that has the more astute powers of observation. The poem’s structure, with its two parallel stanzas, evokes the binary oppositions on which “Boy at the Window” functions; the most important of these binaries is the human/inhuman hierarchy, which Wilbur subverts by privileging the snowman’s viewpoint over the boy’s. Ultimately, as the title of the poem reveals, the poem hinges on the snowman’s interpretation of the boy he sees at the window, rather than the boy’s perception of the snowman.

In many ways, Wilbur initially parallels the boy and the snowman. The image of the boy and the personified snowman facing...

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