This narrative poem by Frost tells the story of a young boy using a buzz-saw to saw wood who mortally injures himself. The poet gets our attention in the first line with onomatopoeia imitating the sound of the saw; then he sets the scene in the mountains of Vermont at sunset. The boy and his sister, who is preparing supper, are the only characters initially presented. When she calls her brother to supper, "the saw leaped, or seemed to leap...as if saws knew what 'supper' meant" or the "boy must have given the hand." The boy's hand is injured badly by the saw, so badly that he sees immediately that he may lose his hand so he pleads with his sister not to let the doctor cut off his hand. The scene then shifts to a hospital where the boy is put "under the dark of ether," anesthetized so that surgery can be performed, but during the procedure, his heart stops beating and the boy dies.
The questions we ask include how such an accident could occur. Where are the boy's parents? Why is this boy, "a child at heart," doing such a dangerous job? Could he have intentionally stuck his hand in the saw, not realizing how seriously he could be hurt? Why would he want to hurt himself? The last lines are ambiguous: "And they, since they were not the ones dead turned to their affairs." Who are "they"? If the pronoun refers to the medical personnel, we can understand that they must maintain a kind of professional distance. However, if "they" refers to the boy's parents, we can perhaps see a clue for any desire he might have for wanting to get out of doing chores that are too difficult for him. Both he and his sister are working in the first part of the poem, but there is no mention made of the parents. Where are they? Do they care about these children?
The title of the poem comes from a line in Shakespeare's play Macbeth: "Out, out brief candle...," referring to the brevity of life and the frail nature of life.