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'Out, Out-'

General Notes

- 'Out, Out-' this is a quote from Macbeth, 'Out, out brief candle', referring to the brevity of life.  This whole poem focuses on the brevity of life, and the quote in the title suggestively cuts off, like the boy's hand and like his life.  This also creates a sense of pace and anxiety throughout the poem.

Robert Frost was an American poet who grew in a rural upbringing and so this is quite possibly an autobiographical poem.


Description of the violent event

Descriptions of the buzz saw immediately give it animalistic agency and suggest its savage nature, 'The buzz saw snarled and rattled'.   This repeated phrase zoo-morphises the saw as an animal, suggesting it is hungry for blood. Internal consonance creates the rhythm and rattling of the saw.  Moreover, 'rattle and snarl' are both onomatopoeic words, making the saw more vivid for the reader, and more threatening. Consonance conveys a harsh sound, mirroring the dark nasty personality of the saw. The repeated phrase suggests the evil sense of the buzz saw and conveys the repetitive noise that the buzz saw makes.


Slightly later on, the saw 'Leaped out of the boy's hand, or seemed to leap'.  We again have the sense that the saw is malevolent and alive. Enjambment between 'meant' and 'Leaped' connotes the saw leaping between lines and the dash creates a sense of tension, that something unspeakable is about the happen.


'But half as if to keep/ The life from spilling' again enjambment between these lines conveys the blood running uncontrollably.  Caesura just after this phrase mirrors the boy's attempt to stop the blood, and also the point of change for the boy, finally understanding what has happened.

Semi-violent use of dialogue is seen after the accident, the boy speaking with dashes and exclamation as he pleads 'Don't let him', creating drama and a vivid scene for the reader.


The poem juxtaposes violence with a perversely calm beginning and end.  At the beginning frequent consonance creates a sense of violence, which is quickly overcome by a beautiful description of the landscape, 'Five mountain ranges one behind the other/Under the sunset far into Vermont'.  The idea of violence happening within a landscape of peace creates the idea of personal tragedy amid a huge landscape. This is reflected in the last lines where it says 'since they/Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.'  In these lines the tone changes to one of uncaring passivity, enjambment creating a conversational mundanity which is meant to jar the reader.


A dramatic effect is thus created, juxtaposing the everyday and the impersonal with the dramatic personal event in the poem.

Description of the boy

'Boy' as a word first of all connotes innocence, as though its a life lost too young and particularly for a modern reader.


'Call it a day, I wish they might have said [...] a boy counts so much when saved from work', the narrator expresses his regret about the incident and also implies the boy's immaturity, as though he shouldn't be working and doesn't enjoy the job but is a typical child.


Presentation of his Sister calling him for supper suggests a domestic image which again makes us feel great pity for the boy and juxtaposes the event.


'The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh', this reaction shows the boy's shock, not knowing how to react in this situation.  He is too young to immediately realise the seriousness of the situation. Shows the growing hysteria of the boy.


'Since he was old enough to know, big boy/Doing a man's work, though a child at heart'.  These lines express the boy's realisation of his plight, evoking sympathy for the child labouring.  'Big boy' sounds almost sarcastic, as he is still a child. Idea that innocence is not tied to age.

'But the hand was gone already' uses the hand symbolically to show that the boy's life is already gone, as is his innocence.  


In the final lines, we see a doctor coming to the boy, which is dramatised in the intricate movements of the doctor.  Short sentences create dramatic effect and mirror the boy's life coming to an end. Frequent disruption also creates a faster pace and a sense of something being wrong.  Gruesome imagery of the 'dark of ether'. We hear his death in 'Little-less-nothing!', as though in real time. Yet the word to describe his death is 'it', as though his life is defined as 'it'.  ‘It’ could also suggest his pain and story as well. This gives a sense of meaninglessness and anticlimax, showing how little his life was valued.



Slow pace at the start of the poem mirrors the everyday actions, which then pick up pace as the incident happens and culiminates in the boy's death, before slowing down again.

Sudden changes and disruptions reflect the tension and drama of the situation - we might consider disruption as a major theme of the poem, just like the unexpected.

Generally the poem is written in blank verse (iambic pentameter without rhyme scheme) and this verse shows the inevitable forward motions of life which comes going on around them, which is occasionally disrupted using enjambment and punctuation to reflect tiny personal tragedies.  Nevertheless, ultimately, the blank verse reasserts itself as dies moved forwards again. Blank verse gives a serious tone. Might remind us of a soliloquy and the tragic tone of Shakespeare. Macbeth reflects on the insignificance of life in the soliloquy the title comes from.

Iambic pentameter often represents the heartbeat, so it is no coincidence that at the boy's death the rhythm is disrupted.  The boy's death doesn't disrupt the rhythm of life, which all goes on without him at the end of the poem.

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