Out, Out— Summary

In "Out, Out—," a young boy working with a dangerous saw has his hand cut off by the saw. He bleeds to death and his death is met with indifference by those around him.

  • The poem begins with an ominous, threatening tone, describing the saw as a restless animal, which contrasts with the picturesque, tranquil setting. 
  • The dramatic turn in the poem comes in line fourteen when the saw leaps from the boy's grip, collides with his hand, and causes a fatal injury.
  • The boy lies dying under the watch of the doctor, and when his heart stops, the people return to their work.


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437

"Out, Out—" is a short narrative poem recounting the tragic death of a boy who has his hand cut off by a saw. The title, "Out, Out—," alludes to the stopping of the boy's heart at the end of the poem.

The poem begins with an ominous, threatening tone. The saw is described as "snarl[ing] and rattl[ing] in the yard," suggesting that it is a restless animal: ready to pounce. After this opening line, however, the next five lines of the poem establish a rather picturesque, tranquil scene. There is the "Sweet-scented" smell of sawed wood, the "mountain ranges," and the "sunset far into Vermont." This picturesque setting is in stark contrast to the threatening, animalistic image of the saw, and thus there is set up a tension which characterizes the first half of the poem.

The pattern of the poem's opening six lines is repeated in the next six lines. Indeed, the threat of the saw is repeated in the seventh line, where Frost describes how it "snarl[s] and rattle[s], snarl[s] and rattle[s]." And then the next lines again allude to the peaceful Vermont setting, where "nothing happen[s]" and "day [is] all but done."

The volta, or dramatic turn in the poem, comes in line fourteen when the saw leaps from the boy's hand. The saw leaps out of his hand "At the word" supper, "As if to prove saws knew what supper meant." Here, we again see the implication that the saw is alive and acting according to its own will. The saw collides with the boy's hand, causing an injury which will prove fatal.

At this point in the poem, to compound the pity we may feel for the boy, Frost emphasizes the boy's youth. Four times in eight lines Frost uses the word "boy," and he uses the word "child" once. In lines twenty-three and twenty-four, the boy is described as a "big boy / Doing a man's work, though a child at heart."

In the final part of the poem, the boy lies dying—"in the dark of ether"—under the watch of the doctor. Slowly his heart stops beating ("little - less - nothing!"), and the boy dies. Perhaps the most tragic part of the boy's story, however, is the reaction (or lack thereof) to his death. When his heart stops beating, the people around him decide that there's "No more to build on there." They, "since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs." This rather blunt ending makes the boy's death even more pitiable, because it passes without fuss or ceremony.

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