“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.