“Out, Out –” by Robert Frost


“Out, Out” is a poem about an everyday experience that turned tragic. The poem depicts a boy doing a man’s work, yet still has a mind of a child. In the end, lack of focus and the boy’s carelessness causes a fatal accident. While cutting wood, he accidentally cuts his hand with the saw. He fears having his hand amputated but soon dies of shock, as life goes on around him.


Frost’s poem “Out, Out –” could be described as one of his most disturbing pieces of work. Although this is a very deep and thought-provoking poem, it does not consist of the multiple meanings and different interpretations that his other poems deal with. The poet openly portrays the devastating effects of farming accidents in a simple style that is easy for all audiences to comprehend. Written in 1910, the poet’s glaringly obvious message about the fragility of life continues to be as relevant today as it was then. I believe that this is a message we should all be more conscious of in our modern world, where people so often take life for granted.

The title of the poem is taken from a famous line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow”, which prepares me from the beginning for the dark subject matter of this poem. The poem begins with a sense of foreboding, which is effectively achieved through the use of symbolism. We are told that the saw “made dust”, just as when humans due they are said to return to dust. From the beginning, the poet is creating a sense that the reader can expect the worst in a way that leaves little room for individual interpretation and pursuit of deeper meanings. The picturesque backdrop of “Five mountain ranges…Under the sunset far into Vermont” is a stark contrast to the following image of the lethal saw. In my opinion, this contrast serves to highlight how like a candle, life can be extinguished in a matter of moments.

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Onomatopoeic sounds such as “snarled and rattled” give a harsh tone to the poem and send chills down my spine. The repetition of this line in relation to the saw enforces the idea that the saw is something evil, something to fear, and evokes feelings of terror about is to come. The personification of the saw, “As if to prove that saws knew what supper meant”, shows the power and strength of the saw, similar to that of a human. However, while humans eat food for supper, the saw ‘ate’ the boy’s hand. This is a vivid and grotesque image that shocks me as a reader and stays with me long after I have finished reading the poem. There is little uncertainty that the message the poet is conveying here is about the dangers and ferociousness of what seem like regular farming machines. This poem also differs from the rest of Frost’s work in the sense that it is not a personal poem about his own experience, but rather a poem to
increase universal awareness about the fragility of life through the portrayal of a tragic and untimely death. We hear little of Frost’s own opinion throughout this poem, only to profess his awareness of the tragedy of the incident and to leave us pondering on the dreaded ‘if only’, “Call it a day, I wish they might have said”.

This poem reads like a story, with a start, a middle and an end. At the start of the poem, the boy is working on the farm, using the saw to chop the firewood. The middle of the poem describes how the boy lost control of the saw and cut off his arm, as his sister watched on helplessly. The poem concludes with the boy drawing his final breaths and his family continuing with their lives after his passing. Unlike in his other poems, it appears to me that in ‘Out, Out – ‘, Frost does not wish for the reader to uncover layers of meaning. Instead, he wants us to listen to the story he is telling about the fragility of life. I believe that the purpose of this poem is to wake us up, to make us smell the “sweet-scented” coffee and to realise what a precious gift life is. I believe that the poet deliberately made this poem easy to understand in order to enhance the impact of his message. This poem explores the reality of human existence. Sometimes there is no meaning to events that happen in our lives and we just have to accept them as a horrible twist of fate, “He saw all spoiled”. The use of the word “saw” in this line can be seen as a play on words, as it was in fact the saw who took the boy’s life.

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The dramatic “So.” towards the end of the poem slows down the pace and gives a reader time to reflect on and take in the cold reality that the poet has put in front of us. The final line, “And they, since they/ Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs” is quite a cold, abrupt end to such an upsetting poem and I was initially angry at Frost for his lack of compassion. However, on reflection, I realised that the point Frost is making is entirely accurate. Sometimes there is no happy ending, no deeper meaning to be found in a tragic event and moving on with life doesn’t mean that the boy’s family don’t care. It is their method of coping, as it is for many people. Their silent struggle to cope with the passing of a family member is also evident through the absence of any emotion on their part throughout the poem. While I do not believe this poem to be deceptive or layered with meaning, I do believe it carries a very important message about life, as Frost once said himself, “it goes on”.

Questions and Answers

Q. What is the message of the poem out out?
Answer: The poet’s glaringly obvious message in this poem is about
the fragility of life that continues to be as relevant today as it was then. The poem is about a young boy who loses his life in an accident. The lack of focus and the boy’s carelessness causes the fatal accident. This is a message we should all be more conscious of in our modern world, where people so often take life for granted. The poem also highlights what people feel about the young boy’s passing and also death.

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Q. How is out out an example of modernism?
Answer: Frost displays modernism in “Out, Out-” by focusing on a scene. Modernism also includes telling a poem from a different perspective than the typical 3rd person. The narrator in the poem has an outside perspective, almost as if he is reflecting on the events and recognising where things went wrong.

Q. What does the speaker mean by the expression the boy saw all in line 22?
Answer: When the poet uses the expression “the boy saw all,” he is explaining that in a moment of clarity, the boy understands what has happened: he has accidentally cut off his hand, he is bleeding copiously, and he will likely die. “The boy saw all” is his prescience of this possible event

Q. Who is the speaker of the poem ‘Out, Out-‘ by Robert Frost?
Answer: In ‘Out, Out-‘ by Robert Frost, the speaker is an unnamed narrator who appears to have been present when the boy suffered his saw accident.

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