English Literature
Out, Out

Out, Out

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Discovering the Meaning Behind Robert Frost's 'Out, Out'

Often confused with Shakespeare's famous play "Macbeth," Robert Frost's poem 'Out, Out' stands on its own as a prime example of 20th century literature. Frost, a highly acclaimed American poet, seamlessly navigates life's universal mysteries in a way that appeals to readers from all walks of life. A defining element of his writing is his vivid depictions of nature, which are evident in his renowned poem 'Out, Out'.

'Out, Out' was initially published in Frost's third collection of poetry, "Mountain Interval," in 1916. The title of the poem draws inspiration from a well-known quote in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." In the play, the character Macbeth contemplates the fleetingness of life, comparing it to a candle that can easily be extinguished. Frost cleverly incorporates this allusion to Shakespeare to reinforce the main theme of his poem: death.

The poem's context is also vital to understanding its significance. Frost's 'Out, Out' was written during the beginning of World War I, an era characterized by its tragedies and high number of casualties. This was primarily due to the advanced technology used in warfare, making it more lethal than ever before. In the poem, Frost also sheds light on the dangers of technology, as seen through the "buzz saw" and how quickly people move on after a life is lost.

An interesting fact about 'Out, Out' is that it was inspired by a true event from Frost's own life. The young farm boy who tragically perishes in the poem was actually Frost's neighbor, Raymond Fitzgerald, whom he knew in New Hampshire. Raymond died after an accident with a sawing machine that severely injured his hand and ultimately led to his untimely death. Despite the doctor's efforts to save him, Raymond succumbed to shock and excessive blood loss.

In the poem, the boy's hand becomes the main focus, described as having a mind of its own and "leaping" towards the saw, ultimately resulting in his demise. His final words, "Don't let him cut my hand off," reveal his fear and desperation as he tries to hold on to what little life he has left.

'Out, Out' is a poignant reflection on the fragility and fleetingness of life, especially when faced with war and tragedy. Its enduring themes and powerful imagery continue to resonate with audiences, solidifying it as a significant piece of 20th century literature.

Exploring the Tragic End in 'Out, Out' by Robert Frost

A young boy finds himself in a perilous situation, his initial response being a nervous laugh. However, as a doctor arrives and attempts to save him, the gravity of the situation becomes apparent. Despite the doctor's efforts, the boy's pulse weakens until it stops completely. The poem concludes with those present returning to their daily tasks, seemingly unfazed by the tragedy that just took place.

In 'Out, Out', Frost utilizes a single 34-line stanza written in free verse, a form of poetry without a regular rhyme scheme or meter. This technique adds a conversational tone to the poem, making the sudden climax, where the boy meets his tragic end, all the more shocking. It may also symbolize the unexpectedness of death.

The absence of a set rhyme scheme or meter lends a somber tone to the poem, fitting for its subject matter. 'Out, Out' provides an objective perspective on death, emphasizing the harsh reality that it often comes without warning.

The Art of Contrast in 'Out, Out'

In the first section of the poem, Frost masterfully contrasts the industrial buzz saw with the serene natural scenery of Vermont. Through personification, he gives the buzz saw a harsh and unsympathetic persona, using words like 'snarled' and 'rattled' to portray its actions. The buzz saw seems indifferent to the weight upon it, "running light" with no consequences.

In contrast, the portrayal of the natural scenery is peaceful, with a tranquil sunset behind five mountain ranges. This could be interpreted as a metaphor for the end of the boy's life, which occurs shortly after the accident. Alternatively, it may simply add beauty to the poem.

The Tragic Accident and Its Aftermath

The middle portion of 'Out, Out' describes the boy's accident and his initial reaction. Frost adopts a more personal tone in this section, portraying the boy as "doing a man's work, though a child at heart."At a young age, he shoulders the responsibility of supporting his family and has to give up his desire to play for a short break. However, fate seems to have other plans when an accident occurs while his sister calls him for dinner. The poet, Robert Frost, suggests that it was as if the buzz saw had a mind of its own and purposely leapt out at the boy's hand. The boy's response, a rueful laugh, may portray his disbelief and shock. He pleads for his hand not to be cut off, oblivious to the fact that it is already gone. Despite his defiance, he tragically succumbs to death, most likely due to excessive blood loss and shock.

The Family's Reaction and the Poem's Conclusion

The narrator paints a grim picture of the boy's death, with his heartbeat symbolically slowing down to a stop before announcing his passing. The family, who managed to survive the incident, continue with their lives, signifying that time moves on regardless of tragedy. The poem ends with the family seemingly cold and heartless, but it can be interpreted as a stoic reaction, as the harsh demands of manual labor leave them no time to grieve. They have no choice but to carry on with their daily tasks, leaving the reader to contemplate the abrupt end of this young life.

'Out, Out' Literary Devices

Robert Frost masterfully employs various literary devices in his poem 'Out, Out' to enhance its beauty and emphasize its key aspects. Let's explore some of the techniques used in this poem.

  • Alliteration is used in specific lines to create a melodious effect and add emphasis. For instance, in the line "Sweet-scented stuff," the repetition of the 's' sound, known as sibilance, adds to the poem's overall musicality.
  • The poet also makes use of personification when describing the buzz saw, giving it an aggressive and animalistic persona with phrases like "snarled and rattled." This adds to the dangerous atmosphere of the poem and reflects Frost's anti-technology sentiment.
  • The theme of juxtaposition is evident throughout the poem, especially in the contrast between nature and machinery. This technique is also apparent in the shift of mood from the first half, which is tranquil and mundane, to the second half, where chaos and tragedy ensue.
  • The enjambment used in the poem, where lines end abruptly, adds to the tension and emphasizes the poem's serious subject matter. For example, in line 21, right after the boy's hand is severed, the phrase "since he was old enough to know" is left hanging, creating a sense of anticipation for the reader.
  • Symbolism is also utilized in the form of the sunset behind the mountains, signifying the boy's impending death.


The speaker in the poem maintains a detached perspective, narrating the events in an objective manner. However, his voice becomes more personal when he expresses his wish that the boy had been advised to "Call it a day" before the tragic accident. This shows the speaker's foreknowledge of the inevitable tragedy and his regret that fate was not kinder to the young boy.

'Out, Out' Themes

The poem 'Out, Out' explores two main themes: the fragility of life and the contrast between technology and nature.

The Fragility of Life

The sudden and unexpected nature of death is a key theme in the poem. Frost purposefully narrates a mundane story about farm life before the tragic accident occurs, highlighting the delicate nature of life. The sunset in the poem symbolizes the end of the boy's life, and the lack of separate stanzas adds to the shock of the climax when death strikes. The family's reaction of continuing with their lives without any mourning or sadness also raises questions about the value of life.

Technology vs. Nature

The poem also explores the negative and dangerous aspects of technology through the portrayal of the buzz saw as an aggressive and destructive force. The contrast between nature and machinery is evident, and Frost suggests that with technological advancements comes a cost - in this case, the potential danger and destruction that machinery can cause.

Key Takeaways from 'Out, Out'

The title 'Out, Out' is a reference to Shakespeare's play Macbeth, where a character remarks "Out, out, brief candle!" before dying. Similarly, Frost's poem serves as a reminder of the fleeting nature of life and the harsh reality that even the most mundane of activities can lead to a tragic end.

The Significance of 'Out, Out' by Robert Frost: A Look at Themes and Poetic Techniques

In 'Robert Frost: A Life', author Jay Parini provides insight into the life of renowned poet Robert Frost. Among his notable works, 'Out, Out' stands out for its use of poetic devices such as alliteration, juxtaposition, and enjambment. This powerful poem explores the themes of mortality and the impact of technology on human relationships.

The speaker in 'Out, Out' takes on the role of an objective observer, giving a factual account of a particular day. Yet, there are times when the speaker's personal thoughts and views on the unfolding events are revealed.

Written in 1916, 'Out, Out' was inspired by a tragic incident in Frost's local community. The poem serves as a means for Frost to process his emotions and contemplate the fleetingness of life in the face of unexpected tragedy.

At its core, the poem delves into the concept of life and death, demonstrating how intertwined they truly are. It also touches upon the relationship between humanity and technology, shedding light on the impact of machines on our daily lives.

A narrative piece, 'Out, Out' takes the reader on a journey through the events of the day and prompts them to ponder on the deeper meanings and themes underlying its words.

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