Sample Answer Unseen Poetry

“Out, Out” (1916)

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them “Supper.” At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart—
He saw all spoiled. “Don’t let him cut my hand off—
The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!”
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

A young man is cutting firewood with a buzz saw in New England. Near the end of the day, the boy’s sister announces that it is time for dinner and, out of excitement, the boy accidentally cuts his hand with the saw. He begs his sister not to allow the doctor to amputate the hand but inwardly realizes that he has already lost too much blood to survive. The boy dies while under anesthesia, and everyone goes back to work.

Frost uses the method of personification to great effect in this poem. The buzz saw, though technically an inanimate object, is described as a cognizant being, aggressively snarling and rattling as it does its work. When the sister makes the dinner announcement, the saw demonstrates that it has a mind of its own by “leaping” out of the boy’s hand in its excitement. Frost refuses to lay blame for the injury on the boy, who is still a “child at heart.”

In addition to blaming the saw, Frost blames the adults at the scene for not intervening and telling the boy to “call it a day” before the accident occurred. Had the boy received an early excuse from the workday, he would have avoided cutting off his hand and would have been saved from death. Moreover, a mere half-hour break from his job would have allowed the boy to regain part of his childhood, if only for a moment.

Frost’s emphasis on the boy’s passivity and innocence in this situation is particularly significant in the context of the time period. After moving to England with his family, Frost was forced to return to America because of the onset of World War I in 1915, an event that would destroy the lives of many innocent young boys. With that in mind, this poem can be read as a critique of the world events that forced boys to leave their childhoods behind and ultimately be destroyed by circumstances beyond their control.

After the boy’s hand is nearly severed, he is still enough of an adult to realise that he has lost too much blood to survive. He attempts to “keep the life from spilling” from his hand, but even that is only an attempt, since nothing can be done. Above all, though, the boy hopes to maintain his physical dignity in his death, rather than die with a missing hand. Again, Frost channels the horrors already occurring on the battlefields in Europe, where death from enemy shells was automatically devoid of dignity.

By the end of the poem, the narrator no longer has anything to say about the tragedy of the boy’s death. While the first twenty-six lines contain elegant metaphors and descriptions of the scene- IDENTIFY the final eight lines are detached and unemotional. The narrator’s “So” and “No more to build on there” reveal that even the narrator is unable to find any explanation for why such a young boy had to die.

In the last line of the poem, the narrator enters a state of complete detachment, almost as if indifference is the only way to cope with the boy’s death. Just as soldiers on the battlefield must ignore the bodies around them and continue to fight, the people of this New England town have nothing to do but move on with their lives

Frost uses different stylistic devices throughout his poem. He is very descriptive using  imagery and personification to express what he wants to say. Frost uses imagery when he describes the setting of the place – a boy sawing some wood. He tells his readers the boy is standing outside by describing the visible mountain ranges, and sets the time of day by saying that the sun is setting. Frost gives his readers an image of the boy feeling pain by using contradiction words such as “rueful” and “laugh” and by using powerful words such as “outcry”. He also describes the blood coming from the boy’s hand as life that is spilling. To show how the boy is dying, Frost gives his readers an image of the boy breathing shallowly by saying that he is puffing his lips out with his breath. When talking about the saw, Frost uses personification and repetition. Personification is seen when he says that at times it can run light and at others it has to bear a load, talking as if the saw was a person that had to carry something. Repetition is used to help build an image of the saw’s movements where the words “snarled and rattled” are repeated several times throughout the poem to display an image of the saw moving back and forth. While Frost uses iambic pentameter for the rhythm, he uses blank verse for the rhyme. His variation in the lengths of his sentences almost reflects the boy’s life for when the boy is still alive and healthy, the lengths of Frost’s sentences are much longer then they are when the boy is dying.

The poem’s title, “Out, Out-” is taken from the Shakespearean play Macbeth where the main character, Macbeth, speaks after he is told that his wife is dead. Using a simile to compare Lady Macbeth’s death to a candle which is blown out he says “Out, out, brief candle!” Both Lady Macbeth’s death and the death of the young boy from Frost’s poem are tragedies. They are both about people whose lives come to an end before it is their time to die, before they’ve lived a long life and aged to die a natural death. Comparing them to a candle is suitable because just like a candle’s light can go in a matter of seconds caused by a simple blow, their lives ended in a matter of seconds. A candle that leaves darkness once it is not shining any longer can be compared to the darkness left in the hearts of the families of Lady Macbeth and of the boy after their death. Saying “brief candle” clearly compares to the boy, who dies before he even gets the chance to reach manhood. Another comparison that can be made between Lady Macbeth and the boy, is the way that after their deaths, their surroundings move on and go back to their regular routine. In Macbeth, Macbeth continues his fight for the kingdom, and in “Out, Out-” the doctor and the boy’s family get back to their affairs. This helps prove Macbeth’s words when he says

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player; That struts and frets his hour upon the stage; And then is heard no more: it is a tale; Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury; Signifying nothing.”  -because he is saying that life is brief and meaningless. The boy’s quick death shows how life can be short, and the way everyone got back to their businesses shows how life is meaningless, how when one is gone it does not make that much of a difference. Although it is clear to see that there is an allusion between the two pieces, it is not needed to read one in order to understand the other.

It is Frost’s style of writing that makes his readers feel as if they are part of the poem, as if the events in the poem are truly taking place and the readers are merely people who are standing by and watching it all. It is his writing that allows him to make an allusion between the story of a tragic boy and the story of a tragic hero.

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Comparing Poems

When comparing poems you need to look for all the features that you look for when studying a single poem.

You need to look at the:

  • content of the poem
  • tone and mood of the poem
  • form in which it is written and structured
  • ways in which language is used

When writing your response, avoid writing an examination of one poem and then the other and comparing them in a final paragraph. Integrate your comments on the poems throughout.

However, you also need to compare these features in both poems.

You will need to look at each poem individually to plan your response, but when writing your response you need to integrate your ideas on both poems.

Here’s one way you could approach this task:

Planning your response

1. Read both poems through carefully and get an overall sense of what each poem is about and how the poets handle their topics.

2. Re-read poem ‘A’ and make brief notes either around the poem, if you are able, or on a separate sheet, noting key words, phrases, images etc. and your response to it. Do the same with poem ‘B’.

3. Note down some brief quotations from each poem that you will use to illustrate your ideas. You could underline or circle these if you can write on the copy of the poem.

4. Make two lists – one headed similarities and one headed differences and list the main points under each heading.

Writing the response

It is important that you avoid writing an essay on each poem and then try to join them together. The best responses are those that integrate the ideas in parallel throughout the essay.

Here’s one way you could approach this:

INTRODUCTION

Introductory paragraph commenting on what each poem is about and capturing the ‘flavour’ of each.

MAIN BODY

Several paragraphs based on your detailed reading of the poems. It is a good idea to make a point about poem ‘A’ and then a point about poem ‘B’.

It can help you structure your ideas in a logical way, e.g. one paragraph could compare the way each usesimagery, while another paragraph could focus on structure etc.

CONCLUSION

A concluding paragraph, summing up the main similarities and differences, saying which you find more effective and why, if you are asked this.

Keep both poems at the centre of your focus and don’t be tempted to write all about one and then the other

 

Attack- Siegfried Sassoon

One of many of the poems set in the CCEA specification, and part of the war section. This post shows a concise analysis of the poem and its themes.

Attack by Siegfried Sassoon

Sassoon’s ‘Attack’ depicts the horror faced by troops on the WW1 Battlefield. It paints an abysmal picture of what war was like for those on the front line by incorporating many techniques. Sassoon uses his own personal experience of being on the frontline to give a sense of realism when exploring the horrors of the incessant battle.

Sassoon uses an impersonal style of writing to give the sense of loneliness and solitude which the soldiers faced. The poem makes use of imagery to get across the futility of the War. This is obvious in many parts of the poem including- “Barrage roars and lifts” and “Bristling fire”.  The poem’s imagery sounds downtrodden and frightening adding to the feeling of hopelessness which is being conveyed throughout.

Personification is used in the poem. “Tanks creek and topple” is an example of this. The tanks are being given human like qualities and may be representing the soldier’s future. The soldiers are going over the top and being shot down by enemies. This process is shown in the above quote and it may insinuate that the soldiers are as important as tanks, therefore unimportant.

Repetition is used throughout. ‘And’ is repeated which gives the sense of the soldiers burden and the weight of fear that has been placed upon their shoulders. This is not only in a literal sense but in a mental sense also. The soldiers have been given the responsibility of beating their enemy for their own country and the pressure to do so is mentally stressing.

The use of third person throughout the speech gives a very impersonal and poignant view on the battle. This is continued throughout until the very end when a personal plea is given. This new narrative sounds as if all soldiers are wishing it and thinking it, therefore adds another arousing stir to poem.