The First Poem That Broke My Heart
For the past week, another idea for my Poet Laura post this month was swirling in my head, but then December came in, bellowing its snowy breath on many parts of the country. So I thought, this needs to be about winter poems! Oh, and it was a winter poem that first broke my heart. Bingo! Let’s talk about that.
I was in eighth grade and had an inspiring English teacher. (Give a hand for inspiring English teachers!) I think I liked a lot of poems, but then, one really got to me. And it still gives me goosebumps. It’s Richard Wilbur’s Boy at the Window. Miraculously, I just found this recording of him reading it. You can also hear his sweet explanation of how his son inspired it. By the way, the poet died in 2017 at age 96!
The Boy at the Window (excerpt)
Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a god-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to Paradise…
It’s interesting that the audience in the recording laughs at the lines in the second stanza, “The man of snow is, nonetheless, content / Having no wish to go inside and die.” I do not remember laughing when reading this, and I don’t laugh now. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—we all interpret poems through our own lenses. But to me, those lines are just the snowman being practical, and it makes him real, with a real concern for survival.
As I wrote last year in a Tweetspeak post about my Journey Into Poetry, what touched eighth-grader me was the snowman melting a tear—the very stuff from which he was made—for the boy. The snowman didn’t want to come inside, but he did want to sacrifice a part of himself as recognition of the boy’s love and vulnerability “For the child surrounded by / Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.” I related to that boy, to both his sense of safety and fear. I loved the fact that beauty and not-beauty could exist in the same poem.
I don’t have a snowman poem, but here’s a winter poem I wrote after looking outside my window on a rare snowy day in Georgia, feeling loneliness and hope at the same time. My 32-year marriage had recently ended in divorce.
A bare branch lounges
in my Adirondack chair
under the Japanese maple—
Comforting to me,
now without a husband,
a good omen
in my walled garden
cocooned by snow.
—Karen Paul Holmes
Do you have a fond memory of a poem that stirred your soul, made you laugh, or otherwise inspired a lifelong love of poetry? Paste it or share a link in the comments!
Or, try your hand at a winter poem. We’ll bundle up and read. 🙂
Photo by Jan Vanaverbeke, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Karen Paul Holmes, 2022 Tweetspeak Poet Laura and author of No Such Thing as Distance. “Visitor” from Untying the Knot, first appeared in Town Creek Poetry, used with permission.