Identify the ordinary everyday annd horrific  details in the poem "Out, Out--" by Robert Frost. 

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Frost wrote the poem “Out, Out---“ based on an event that he remembered from growing up. A neighbor boy had been killed in a farm accident.  The title of the poem alludes to a quotation from the Shakespearean play Macbeth.  When Macbeth learns of the death of his wife, he compares her brief life to a burning candle:

Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poort player

That struts and frets his time upon the stage

And then is heard no more...

A person’s life is so precarious that it can be easily eradicated like snuffing out the flame of the candle. In this poem, a young boy’s life is lost using a buzz saw.  

The poem’s summary involves a young boy working with a buzz saw that  he should not have been using. He was too inexperienced to be using this dangerour machine.  As he is cuts the wood, his sister calls everyone in to supper.  The call surprises the boy, and the saw goes out of control and nearly cuts the boy’s hand off.  The family takes him to the doctor, who has to cut off the hand.  While a nurse watches him,  he begins to breathe erratically.  He slowly stops breathing.  Frost points out that the other people went on with their lives.

Ordinary aspects of life mentioned in the poem

  • The surrounding area and setting are described. 
  • The poem takes place in Vermont. 
  • Five  mountain ranges can be seen in the distance. 
  • The wind is blowing and bringing the smell of the sweetly scented wood.
  •  The boy is cutting stove length stick of wood.
  •  The sister calls out to the workers that it is time for supper.
  • The young boy has worked all day.

The description of the boy

  • The poet wishes that the boy had been given thirty minutes   to play instead of working the same amount of time that the adults work.
  • After cutting his hand, he is in shock and laughs rather than cries.The boy seemed to give his hand to the saw.
  • He asks his sister not to let them cut off his hand.
  • In reality, the boy knows that he has lost the hand. 
  • His lips puff out as he breathes.

Five images of the buzz saw

  • Using onomatopoeia, the buzz saw makes the sounds of rattling and snarling.
  • Dust from the saw fills the air as the wood is cut and falls to the ground.
  • Again, in line 7, the sounds of the saw are mentioned.
  • In connection with the sounds, the poet says that the saw runs either lightly or it had to bear a load. 
  • The saw leaps out of the boy’s hand and cuts it deeply. 

The medical events

  1. The saw almost cuts off the boy’s had.
  2. The boy asks his sister not to let them cut off his hand.
  3. The hand bleeds excessively.
  4. The doctor gives the boy ether to anesthetize him.
  5. At first,  his breathing seems normal: in and out, in and out.
  6. The nurse takes his pulse and becomes concerned.
  7. The boy’s heart slowly stops beating. 
  8. The boy dies.


The poem ends with the theme that since the people who were observing the death [which would include parents, sibling, relatives, and friends] were not the one who had died that there is nothing to be gained by focusing on the death of the young boy. 

And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

Life goes on.  Nothing can help the boy now; therefore, return to  each person’s own life and move on.