Two Death Poems

Topics: Writer

I will be analysing two poems on the theme of death, “Out, Out” by Robert Frost, a poet from rural America and “Mid-Term break” by Seamus Heaney an Irish poet. I will be looking at the effects created by the poets. I will explore how their respective cultures affect their poems.

I will first examine Robert Frost’s “Out, Out“. Robert frost lived from 1874 to 1963 and is regarded as of America’s best poets. He won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his contribution to literature.

Robert Frost grew up on a farm; this obviously influenced the setting of this poem.

The poem’s title is “Out, Out-” and is an extract from Macbeth’s last soliloquy, “Out, out brief candle Life’s but a walking shadow”.

This indicates that the poem will be about death as Macbeth knows that death is inevitable. It suggests that death will take place in this poem. The hyphen in the title suggests that it is from a larger quote and when we discover its meaning, it creates a fatalistic atmosphere in the poem.

The theme of the poem is death. Frost also employs the theme of time but commentates without love or emotion when he is narrating, so this is conspicuous by its absence.

The poem is in one long stanza. This increases the feeling that it is in prose. This also moves the story along faster. There is no rhyme scheme which is also like prose. The rhythm differs in each section of the poem.

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The poem is written objectively and even though it seems as if Frost is watching the story unfold, he shows a lack of concern for the victim.

In the first line of the poem Frost personifies and makes the buzz saw animalistic. This quote proves that, “The buzz saw snarled …..” This creates a sinister atmosphere and instantly makes the saw seem evil.

Frost then attempts to distract the reader from the evil saw by describing the saw dust, using sibilance, “Sweet scented stuff.” This changes the mood of the poem for the next four lines. It goes onto describe the dramatic Vermont scenery. This quote shows that the boy is not concentrating on the task, “… Lifted eyes could count, Five mountain ranges one behind the other”. This shows that he is not concentrating. The description makes the atmosphere very relaxed and the tension from the first lines is lost.

The tension is then restored though in the seventh line as Frost uses repletion to make the saw scarier. Then Frost describes the mundane atmosphere of the day, this creates the feeling that something bad will happen. Then Frost subtly suggests that the boy will die, “The day was all but done.” I think that day is a metaphor for life and that it indicates that the boy will die. He states it like it is inevitable and unavoidable. Frost obviously foresees the accident as he says that they should have finished earlier, then the accident would have been avoided.

Frost then personifies the saw once again as he describes the actual accident. He states that the saw “leaps” as the boy is surprised by his sister’s cry. Frost describes the accident as a “meeting” between the boy’s hand and the buzz saw. This is a really impersonal thing to write. There is no real gory description of the accident. This leaves the image to the readers imagination it is horribly effective.

Frost then states that the boy,“Must have given his hand.” This indicates that the boy knew that he knew that he was going to chop his hand off, strange as this may seem. The Poet then describes the boy’s reaction to the accident, Frost describes the boy’s initial as a “Rueful laugh” this shows that the boy has some idea of what trouble he is in and that he is nervous. He instinctively holds his arm up clenching his hand in place. Frost then describes the folly of child doing a man’s work. This changes the poem to a mood of pathos.

He then describes the boy’s death in the last ten lines. Frost never puts in any emotional attachment to the boy. The boy then sees that his injury is very serious. He asks someone to tell the doctor not to cut his hand off. He refers to the person as sister. This person can be interpreted as his sister or a nurse; I like to think that it is nurse as it explains her distinct detachment from the boy. Frost then says that his hand was already detached and there was nothing that the doctor could have done. The doctors then put the boy in,

“The dark of ether” which means a crude form of anaesthetic, ether is also linked strongly with death, which might suggest that the doctor put him to sleep. Frost portrays the boy’s innocence by describing, “Puffed out lips with his breath.” Dark also represents death as contrast to day. Frost utterly understates the death forcing you to imagine it. The doctors are shocked at the boy’s failing pulse and his death. The most shocking line in the poem is the last, “Since they were not dead, they turned to their affairs.” This illustrates the detachment between people and suggests that death often takes place.

This poem confuses and makes me wonder more about the characters. It does make me read in between the lines and it uses metaphors when describing death and life to very good use. This poem is quite obscure. I now move onto “Mid-Term Break”. The poet Seamus Heaney wrote this autobiographical poem in the twentieth century.

Heaney describes his wait to go home at the start of the poem. We don’t know what he is waiting for but we have an indication of death when Heaney says that he was “Counting bells knelling” Funeral bells knell so that indicates death has taken place. You get the idea that has died when his neighbours come and pick him up from school. This shows that his parents can’t face him. This strongly indicates that something bad has happened.

Another sign of this is when he sees his, “Father crying,” in the porch this must be a sad thing to greet you as you enter your house. This empathised again as he states that his father, “Had always taken funerals in his stride” the mention of a funeral certifies the death.

Heaney then uses very effective contrast by describing his baby brother’s reaction. The first four stanzas are written as if in a daze, he is aware of what is going on around of him but doesn’t describe his feelings deeply. He is obviously shocked. He then describes the embarrassment as he is greeted solemnly by old men. It is if they treat him as one of them now that he has suffered a tragedy. Heaney uses enjambment to link together verses to great effect. The old men aren’t blunt about the death saying that they are,

“Sorry for my trouble.” This builds tension and makes you wonder who has died. In the fourth stanza you learn that Seamus has been away at boarding school. The family are obviously very close to each other. The mother, “Coughs out angry tearless sighs” this suggests that she has been crying for some time and that the death was violent. In the middle of the fifth stanza Seamus comes out of his daze and describes the arrival of the corpse at his house. Heaney is still building tension in the poem as he still does not name the body.

His parents obviously prevent going into the room where the corpse is. His parents are obviously making it as nice possible for him. Heaney finally names the corpse as his brother. This makes more sympathetic for him. It is the first time he has seen his brother in six weeks. This is also very sad. The only way that he describes is that he is “paler” this shows that he is still a child. The only wound that Seamus can see is,

“A poppy bruise”. This is a reference to the Second World War and the poppy is often associated with death. Heaney finds it difficult to accept that his brother is dead and says it is similar the way his brother looks dead with sleeping. On the last line of the stanza it reveals that his brother was run over with a reference to a bumper.

The last stanza is one line long for effect. It reads,“a four foot box, a foot for every year.” This is shocking as you don’t know how old the brother is until this point. This poem makes me very sad and the enjambment is used to great effect. This is a timeless poem as the sadness of death is felt by people every day and you can relate to it.

I will now compare and contrast the poems. Both poems are on the theme of death. The layouts are a lot different as in “Out, Out” is written in one stanza to increase the speed of reading and to show the mood, whereas “Mid Term break” is eight stanzas long to show the differing emotions of Seamus Heaney. The titles also differ in their help in predicting the theme of the poem. “Out, Out-” is an obvious reference to death whereas “Mid Term break” is more obscure.

“Out, out-” is written in first person narrative like “Mid Term Break” but “Mid Term Break” is emotional. So it is more subjective. The use of the senses is used in both. In “Out, Out-” the use of sight is used when he describes the scenery as in “Mid-Term break” as Heaney describes his dead brother. They use sound in both as Frost describes the saw and in “Mid-Term Break” when Heaney describes his baby sibling. The sense of smell is used in “Out, Out-” as Frost describes the saw dust as “Sweet scented stuff.”

The writing techniques are different as personification is used in “Out, Out-“. The techniques are similar as enjambment is used in both poems and alliteration are used as Frost describes “Sweet scented” and in Heaney’s poem as he describes his brothers coffin as a “Four Foot box”. I conclude that I preferred “Mid Term Break” as it is a timeless poem with a tear jerking mood. It is easy to relate to and you really feel for Seamus Heaney.

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Two Death Poems. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Two Death Poems
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