Having read the suggested range of poems in the anthology, it became immediately apparent that within each poem and piece of writing, there were recurrent themes which varied from self-esteem in Still I Rise, to cultural identity in Unknown girl, and from freedom in The Story of an Hour to pride, in The Necklace. Above all of them, I chose to write about the theme of the fragility of life as I found it to be the most emotionally moving.
This theme can be found in Wilfred Owen’s poem Disabled where a once strong, young man becomes a helpless aged amputee after signing up for war. However, for my assignment on the fragility of life, I chose to write about the poem Out, Out by Robert Frost. Although both poems are emotionally disturbing because of the graphic content, the story of Out Out moved me more as it was more upsetting for me to read about an incident which ripped through the flesh of such a young boy until his heartbeat went Little – less – Nothing.
I decided to compare it to Tony Harrison’s Bright lights of Sarajevo, where, despite many horrors of war, people still find a way for love to thrive. Both pieces of writing beautifully illustrate the theme of the fragility of life. I believe that these were the perfect poems to write about because, whilst studying them, I noticed that they were written during wartime. For me as a GCSE History student, it was extremely interesting to read and to analyse poems which were written during the war because it is one of the topics which we usually talk about during history class discussions.
So, why did I choose the fragility theme? Because the powerful imagery in these texts forced me to confront my mortality.
Explore how the fragility of life is shown in Out Out and The Bright Lights of Sarajevo
Robert Frost wrote the poem Out Out in 1916 during the First World War. The author wrote this poem as a memorial to a boy who died in an accident during the war while his father was at war. The Bright Lights of Sarajevo was also written in wartime but 76 years later, during the siege of Sarajevo, which was the longest lasting siege on a capital city in modern history. In the poem, the author emphasizes the horrible living conditions under a siege and how people tried to continue with their normal lives. In both poems, there are many stark illustrations of the fragility of life, and in this essay, I will explore them.
The poem Out, Out, begins with a characterization of a saw being used. Frost personifies the saw to make it sound like a hungry animal: It snarled as if looking for prey. He also uses onomatopoeia as the buzz saw rattled, emphasizing the loud noise. In the next five lines, a juxtaposition is created by describing a peaceful setting which contrasts with the loud rattling noises the saw makes. The s – sibilance in Sweet-scented stuff creates a soft tone and generates the idea of long-lasting peace. However, the peace is broken when repetition is used to remind the reader that the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled, to accentuate its unstoppable power. A false sense of security is created when nothing happened at first, as it makes the reader believe in the best, hoping that nothing will happen. The author creates a foreshadowing effect when he wishes that the adults in charge had called it a day half an hour earlier because that shows that he knows that the accident would not have happened if they had done this. On the same point, Frost also emphasizes the person working is a fragile, innocent child, to whom it would give great pleasure if he were given the half hour //That a boy counts so much when saved from work; the use of the word ‘boy’ here emphasises his innocence and the verb ‘saved’ shows that he needed to be rescued from not only work but the dangerous situation. Ultimately, these words portray him as a victim.
As the boy’s sister comes out of the house To tell them Supper. , the use of them instead of him, suggests that the boy was not the only one to whom the word supper was addressed. It is as though the author is preparing us for the grim outcome by subtly addressing both the child and death itself. It was also the saw, who as we remember is a hungry animal, who wanted to prove that it also understands the word supper by leaping out at the boys hand and cutting it off, showing the mind-blowing ease with which it is possible to end a life. The author uses a metaphor when the boy tries to keep his life from spilling where the word life in this context means blood, which once again proves the idea of life being fragile. We can also sense fear in the boys voice as he wants to reassure himself that his sister will not let [the doctor] cut his hand off, which is dramatic irony, as we know that his hand has already been devoured by the Saw. The boy is still too innocent to believe that this will happen. Caesura is used when the watcher takes the pulse little — less–nothing; the dashes are used to show how the heartbeat slows down and eventually stops, ending the life of a poor, innocent child who was forced to perform a dangerous, adult mans job in times of war.
In the poem, The Bright Lights of Sarajevo the author skillfully uses enjambment to represent the endlessness of the siege, he also deliberately follows an AABB rhyme scheme throughout, which, through its constancy, acts as contrast to the gruesome chaotic imagery of war, as if to add light to the dark lives of the suffering people.
During the siege, the people had to dodge snipers on their way whilst queuing for the precious meagre grams of bread theyre rationed to each day, showing that human life is very fragile, as it can end any second with a bullet, or from the slow devouring from the inside – starvation. Also, it shows how bread was life under those conditions, as there was barely any in Sarajevo during the siege. The word rationed, again reminds the reader of the horrific levels of starvation people were exposed to, making the reader empathise with them. However at night, when the war is not going on, there is no hatred or racism toward each other, people can find their way through the dark towards love. The alliteration in strollers stride creates harmony and suggests that people strive to live a normal life, even though the current conditions are incompatible with their current needs.
When the couple were standing on two shell scars Harrison reminds us again that the war is ongoing and that there is no time to relax as the bombers eye is on them and ready to kill. Harrison uses gruesome imagery when he says Serb mortars massacred the bread shop queue, creating that image in the reader’s mind, making them think that life could end any second and therefore needs to be valued more than anything. The d and b alliteration in blood-dunked crusts of shredded bread makes a sound comparable to machine gun fire, which is also an example of onomatopoeia as the writer cleverly embeds sounds into his poem, effectively making the reader visualise those sounds. The use of very strong verbs such as Shredded and dunked, creates an analogy between the shredded bread and the fragility of life. The author creates irony in his piece when he writes about the AID flour-sacks refilled with sand, as the flour is long gone into those meagre grams of bread, and the desperate people, striving for survival, fill those empty sacks with sand to try to keep their own lives from spilling.
Although both poems expressed the horrors of war and the fragility of life, only Out Out strongly stirred the emotion in my opinion. Whilst writing the poem Out, Out Frost used a variety of language devices and manipulated the text in such a way to make the reader empathise with the poor boys fate, and to show how dangerous it is to expect a young boy to do a mans job. The poem Bright lights of Sarajevo also expresses the fragility of life, albeit in a less emotive manner. However, Harrisons less sentimental approach is compensated for by strong images of hope. I believe that both poems try to say that life goes on and because you might die any minute, you need to value the present.