What are the similarities between the poems "Out, Out -" by Robert Frost and "Empty-Cradle Sad" by Bette Wolf Duncan?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stylistically, the poems "'Out, Out -'" by Robert Frost and "Empty Cradle Sad" by Bette Wolf Duncan are both story poems, which tell a tale of a realistic happening with vivid imagery. Frost's poem depicts a New England family working at sunset, cutting "stove-length sticks of wood," while Duncan's work describes an Indian woman planting a garden on the Montana frontier while her newborn baby lies beneath a pine tree, shielded from the sun. Both Frost and Duncan utilize descriptive figurative language, with Frost speaking of a buzz-saw that "snarl(s) and rattle(s)," and Duncan recreating the unforgettable image of the Indian woman screaming and flying after the squaw who has abducted her baby "just like the geese above." The natural world plays a large role in both of the poems, and an omniscient narrator guides the reader to an understanding of the point each writer is trying to make.

The two poems, however, are most notably similar in their thematic content, although each approaches the topic very differently. The common theme in both poems is empathy; "Empty-Cradle Sad" describes the presence of it, while "'Out, Out -'" focuses on its lack. Both Frost and Duncan state the message they wish to convey at the end of their respective poems; Duncan describes the shared experience of womanhood that enables the victimized Indian woman to "most surely under(stand)" the longing for a child that drove the Crow squaw from trying to steal her baby, while Frost chillingly emphasizes the cold indifference with which those who still live greet the death of the young boy by saying with brutal honesty, "they, since they were not the one dead, (turn) to their affairs."

lit24 | Student

1. Both the poems are based on true life incidents:

Frost's poem is based on a true incident which is believed to have happened in April 1915; Raymond Fitzgerald, the son of Frost’s friend and neighbour, lost his hand to a buzz saw and bled so profusely that he went into shock, and died of cardiac arrest in spite of the best efforts of the doctor.  Frost’s title invites us to compare the poem’s shocking story with Macbeth’s speech on learning of his wife’s death:

The key to understanding the theme of Frost's "Out, out-" lies in the intertextual reference to Shakespeare's "Macbeth" Act V Sc.5, where Macbeth soliloquizes bitterly on the futility of life after he learns of the death of his wife:

Out, out, brief candle!
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.

Frost's poem ironically comments on the death of a small boy who dies tragically at such a young age because of an accident when he was sawing wood.  His life is compared to a "brief candle."

Bette Wolf Duncan's poem deals with an incident which took place in the life of her late husband's grandmother. The mother in the poem is her husband's grandmother and the infant is her father-in-law.

2. Out door work: Frost's poem describes a group of people sawing wood. Bette Wolf Duncan's poem describes the mother engaged in agricultural operations:

Down below, with seeds and hoe,
Emma sowed the garden ground.

3. Children are at the center of both the poems. In Frost's poem it was a small boy and  in Bette Wolf Duncan's poem it was a new born baby.