The Lighted Window

The Lighted Window
Sara Teasdale
He said:
“In the winter dusk
When the pavements were gleaming with rain,
I walked thru a dingy street
Hurried, harassed,
Thinking of all my problems that never are solved.
Suddenly out of the mist, a flaring gas-jet
Shone from a huddled shop.
I saw thru the bleary window
A mass of playthings:
False-faces hung on strings,
Valentines, paper and tinsel,
Tops of scarlet and green,
Candy, marbles, jacks—
A confusion of color
Pathetically gaudy and cheap.
All of my boyhood
Rushed back.
Once more these things were treasures
Wildly desired.
With covetous eyes I looked again at the marbles,
The precious agates, the pee-wees, the chinies—
Then I passed on.

In the winter dusk,
The pavements were gleaming with rain;
There in the lighted window
I left my boyhood.”

The poem “The Lighted Window” by Pulitzer Prize winner Sara Teasdale recounts a fleeting memory of a grown man’s childhood upon his passing of a store window filled with toys of his past. Though he is at once captured by these childhood objects, he quickly pushes the thoughts aside and continues on his walk. This somewhat depressing poem presents the message that stresses of old age can change perception of childhood memories as foolish.
The poem begins with a dreary tone, which is set through gloomy imagery and weighted diction such as “winter dusk,” “pavements were gleaming with rain,” “dingy street,” and “problems that never are solved.” These phrases demonstrate not only the dismal atmosphere, but also the stress of the man. Elements of Foster are prevalent here; in his book, Foster says winter can be characterized with somber and lonely qualities that represent old age. Here in this poem, the grown man seems lonely and stressed, and the reader is able to recognize these qualities in just the first few lines. The alliteration in the phrase “hurried, harassed” mimics the sound of panting, as if the man is out of breath from the mechanical motions of his life. Furthermore, the reader learns that the man’s thoughts are consumed with “problems that are never solved” which portrays his burdened character.
On line six, the tone experiences a positive shift from the depressing portrayal of the stresses of old age when the man passes the shop window filled with toys of his childhood. The “bleary” quality of the window represents a hazy look into his childhood. The toys are not explicitly stated as to what they actually are, but instead are only described to give the reader an idea of their identity. The man is enraptured by the abundance of memories–so much that he encounters a “confusion of color.” While this moment seems cheerful, the tone quickly changes into disdain. The man dismisses these childhood toys as “pathetically gaudy and cheap.” His scorn of them demonstrates his changed thoughts–thoughts changed by the stresses of old age and the “real world.” Instead of perceiving toys as delightful and entertaining as he probably did as a child, he now perceives them as cheesy pieces of materialism; this reflection is tainted by the aforementioned “problems that are never solved” as toys now seem gaudy in comparison to his current problems. The line that describes all of his boyhood as having “Rushed back” is one of the shortest in the poem, and it demonstrates the impact these toys had on the man due to the memories they aroused. Conflicted once again by the gaudiness of the toys in comparison to his current problems and the desire for his boyhood, the man takes one one more yearning glance toward the store window. The final line in the stanza represents the greatest shift, however, as it demonstrates the man’s final abandonment of his boyhood. The man passes on back into “the winter dusk”–back into the lonely, mechanical, stressed life of his old age.

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One thought on “The Lighted Window

  1. I also don’t think it’s an accident that this poem begins with a brief acknowledgement that the speaker was told this story by someone else…just like “Ozymandias.” The hint (in both poems) is that the other voice, this outsider, has told a story from which others can learn an important lesson.

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