Describe the premise and setting of the poem "Out, Out--" by Robert Frost. 

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The poem “Out, Out—“ by Robert Frost was based on an actual farm accident that killed a neighbor boy when Frost was a boy himself. The title of the poem is found in the Shakespearean play Macbeth. Macbeth’s wife dies prematurely. In a soliloquy, Macbeth compares her life to a candle:

“Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow. A poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is no more.”

The young boy in the poem loses his life prematurely to the work that should be left for an adult to perform. His life is taken away  just as a candle is blown out.

The setting for the poem is similar to Frost’s early life. The poem takes place on a farm where everyone has to pull his own weight for the farm to be successful.  The place is Vermont.  The sun is setting in the west.  In the background are five mountain ranges which are part of the Green Mountains, one right behind the other.

The boy is working hard using the buzz saw which "snarls" and rattles as he uses it. This is a young boy doing a man’s work. The poet comments that it would have been nice if the boy had been able to quit a few minutes early and just play around like boy’s should do.

His sister comes out and calls everyone in to the house for supper. The boy loses concentration and allows the saw to seemingly leap out of his hand and nearly severs the hand from his arm.

Shocked by the accident, the boy raises his arm and gives a strange laugh. He sees that the hand is bleeding badly and tells his sister not to let the doctor cut off his hand. 

As he swung around toward them holding up his hand,

Half in appeal, but half as if to keep

The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all--

The boy is put under anesthesia and his hand is removed.  The "watcher," most likely a nurse, watches the boy and sees that his pulse is sinking. The doctor listens to his heartbeat. No one believes that the boy is going to die, but slowly, his heart stops. 

The people who were left turned away and went on with their lives.  Even though the family loved the boy, he is gone. Life goes on.

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