The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Robert Frost’s “‘Out, Out—’” describes a farm accident that unexpectedly and irrationally costs a young boy his life. The narrator of the poem sets the scene, seemingly from an outsider’s perspective, reporting the incident with objectivity and restraint. Yet, as the narrative advances, underlying emotions and tensions surface as the persona builds to the poem’s conclusion: the seemingly senseless, abrupt ending of the boy’s life, followed by his family’s subsequent return to their daily routines.

The first nine lines of the poem set the scene: the “snarl” of the saw and the “sweet-scented” smell of the wood as it is cut into “stove-length sticks.” Beyond the farm, the late afternoon sun settles over “five mountain ranges” extending “far into Vermont.” It has been an ordinary day on an ordinary farm, despite the exceptional beauty of its location: “And nothing happened: day was all but done.” This section concludes with its foreboding note, its hint not just of nature’s majesty but also its fearful possibilities for disrupting everyday life.

In the next nine lines of the poem, both the narrator and the boy sawing the wood are introduced. So, too, is the narrator’s discomfort with the story he has to tell. The persona “wish[es]” that the boy’s family had given him “the half hour” he craved to be a boy after a full day of work. Instead, the boy has toiled until his sister announces...

(The entire section is 522 words.)