The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Robert Frost’s “‘Out, Out—’” describes a farm accident that unexpectedly and irrationally costs a young boy his life. The narrator of the poem sets the scene, seemingly from an outsider’s perspective, reporting the incident with objectivity and restraint. Yet, as the narrative advances, underlying emotions and tensions surface as the persona builds to the poem’s conclusion: the seemingly senseless, abrupt ending of the boy’s life, followed by his family’s subsequent return to their daily routines.
The first nine lines of the poem set the scene: the “snarl” of the saw and the “sweet-scented” smell of the wood as it is cut into “stove-length sticks.” Beyond the farm, the late afternoon sun settles over “five mountain ranges” extending “far into Vermont.” It has been an ordinary day on an ordinary farm, despite the exceptional beauty of its location: “And nothing happened: day was all but done.” This section concludes with its foreboding note, its hint not just of nature’s majesty but also its fearful possibilities for disrupting everyday life.
In the next nine lines of the poem, both the narrator and the boy sawing the wood are introduced. So, too, is the narrator’s discomfort with the story he has to tell. The persona “wish[es]” that the boy’s family had given him “the half hour” he craved to be a boy after a full day of work. Instead, the boy has toiled until his sister announces...
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“‘Out, Out—’” is one of Frost’s mid-length narrative poems, written in blank verse to convey natural speech rhythms. The poet uses simple, everyday language, words such as “supper,” “buzz saw,” “apron,” and “big boy.” However, the natural flow is broken by hard caesuras (abrupt breaks) in almost half the lines; these increase in number toward the end of the poem, where they occur often early in a line, rather than in the middle where a pause is more natural (for example, in line 27: “So. But the hand was gone already.”). These breaks betray the emotionality underlying the narrator’s restrained reporting style, as do the three exclamation points dotting the poem. The hard caesura interruptions also correspond to the accident’s abrupt break in the day-to-day rhythms of farm routine and the boy’s foreshortened life.
Frost immerses the reader in the scene of the poem by drawing on all the senses. He creates the sound of the “buzz saw” through the refrain of strong action verbs, “snarled and rattled,” repeated three times in the first seven lines, and by using s, t, d, and z sounds early in the poem. He also re-creates for readers the “sweet-scented” smell of the shavings from the cut wood and the majestic view, as the sun sets over the five Vermont mountains that dwarf the farm below.
The narrator gives readers more than simple, realistic detail, however....
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. Robert Frost. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.
Burnshaw, Stanley. Robert Frost Himself. New York: George Braziller, 1986.
Faggen, Robert. Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
Galbraith, Astrid. New England as Poetic Landscape: Henry David Thoreau and Robert Frost. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.
Gerber, Philip L. Robert Frost. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982.
Lathem, Edward Connery. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Robert Frost: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
Poirier, Richard. Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Potter, James L. The Robert Frost Handbook. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980.
Pritchard, William H. Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Thompson, Lawrance Roger, and R. H. Winnick. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982.
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