“Out, Out” by Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. His work was initially published in England before it was published in America. He is highly regarded for his realistic representations of rural life and his command of American everyday speech. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. One of the most popular and critically respected American poets of the twentieth century, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. He became one of America’s rare “public literary figures, almost an artistic institution.”
Occupation: Poet and Playwright
Summary and Critical Analysis of the poem “Out, Out” (1916) by Robert Frost
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. While a doctor comes to help the boy, it is too late to save the hand, and the boy bleeds to death. The ending of the poem pragmatically explains that life continues on, and the others who are not dead must return to work.
After the boy’s hand is nearly severed, he is still enough of an adult to realize 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, 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.
Summary of “Out, Out-“
The poem “Out, Out-” features the story of a boy who accidentally cuts off his own hand with a buzz saw while doing yard work. While a doctor comes to help it is too late to save the hand, and the boy bleeds to death. The ending of the poem pragmatically explains that life continues on, and the others who are not dead must return to work.
This poem by Robert Frost has a great theme of how short and fragile (temporary) life is in work. The tragedy of the boy in “Out, Out-” exposes how life can change instantly; it quickly can alter and, yes, even can end without warning.
Within the poem, Frost uses describe the buzz saw with human characteristics such as “snarling.” The first line reads:
“The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard”
These human qualities become ironic when, later in the poem, the boy’s sister calls out that it is supper time, and Frost explains the buzz saw does not know what “supper” is. This is the point where tragically the youth’s hand is cut off. And, it is a tragedy in the view of the poet, as Frosts voice is compassionate toward the boy, as shown here:
“Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy…”
Frost is sympathetic toward him, and the writer’s tone is one of blame toward the observer as the one to blame for the tragedy, rather than blaming the boy. The boy is viewed as an innocent child.
Throughout the poem, there is foreshadowing of the dark event to come. For example, there are several words that start with “S” used in the poem, which is a traditional form of alliteration to convey a negative situation. As well, when the doctor later comes to help, his visit is described with the phrase “dark of ether,” which is warning the reader that the boy is soon to die.
As for the ending of Robert Frost’s poem “Out, Out-” likely seems to readers today to be cruel:
“…And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”
Background of the poem
Frost based his poem on an accident that had taken place six years before, which had taken the life of a sixteen-year-old boy, Raymond Fitzgerald, in nearby Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Frost focuses on this small event to suggest the larger themes of his poetry: the isolation of the individual, the mystery of human existence, the ambiguity of nature, and the need to create order and meaning out of chaos.
Death was likely more common place; it was written in the midst of World War I. So, death was accepted and unfortunately likely a regular occurrence for people. They had to accept it and move on with continuing to work. In other words, they were used to it, at least on some level. Today this view is perhaps more difficult to understand and considered to be cruel.
What about the Title?
Robert Frost’s title is a reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In Act 5 Scene 5
Themes of the poems of Robert Frost:
Nature, Communication, Everyday Life, Isolation of the Individual, Duty, Rationality, versus Imagination, Rural Life versus Urban Life