Robert Frost effectively reveals the fragility of life in his poem “Out, out-“. Through a cold detached tone he explores the consequences of a young boy’s misfortune, as he has a horrific accident with a buzz saw. Strong, vivid imagery is used to picture the scene and conjure images of the horrific accident. He teaches that life is precious and at any point it can easily be taken.
Immediately we can tell from the title that the poem will deal with how delicate life is. “Out, out brief candle”, is from William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. The title is used to show that life is fragile and how it is nothing “but a walking shadow”. Frost uses this to imply life is delicate and, like a candle, can be snuffed out easily and at any time.
The poet creates a tranquil and peaceful scene in the opening stanzas, a rhythm is created through the alliteration of:
The soft repetition of the “s” creates a luring sense of security by composing a laid-back rhythm for the boy to perform his work to. Frost’s setting conjures a peaceful mood, the boy is working “under the sunset” however this can be seen as foreshadowing of his death. The sunset can represent a life ending and is extremely foreboding, as we know he is in an uncontrolled daze. By contrasting such a peaceful setting with the buzz saw at the beginning of the poem Frost creates gripping tension that leaves us worrying for the boy. The first line presents a strong sense of danger by telling the reader the saw:
“snarled and rattled.”
These are aggressive, powerful words, which personify the buzz saw, indicating to the reader this is a dangerous, animalistic machine. These examples of onomatopoeia are repeated throughout the poem which maintains the sense of menace. It also contrasts with the calm, luring mood. By implying a tragedy will occur in such a peaceful setting the poet reveals how delicate this boy’s life truly is.
Even before this tragic incident takes place Frost effectively uses tone to build up to the danger we sense is awaiting. Once again “snarled and rattled” is repeated which further personifies the saw. It is like a wild animal ready to pounce. The repetition of the phrase insinuates that his work is boring and monotonous which could suggest that the boy could easily lose concentration. Frost continues this foreboding tone using punctuation effectively:
“And nothing happened: day was all but done.”
The colon creates a pause in the rhythm, this allows the reader to pause and think. His day may have ended at that particular point and he could have been saved from the awaiting accident. This adds to the reader’s shock and allows them to feel sympathetic towards the boy.
Throughout the poem Frost uses a detached, impersonal tone, however regretfully states, “call it a day, I wish they might have said.” This is the only point where he unveils emotion and we are forced to believe the seriousness of the situation. By the use of tone Frost illustrates how easily the accident could have been avoided, revealing the fragility of life.
When the tragedy actually occurs the boy primarily does not realise the extent of his injury. His sister creates the boy’s initial distraction by announcing “supper” and the saw:
“leaped out at the boy’s hand”
Frost’s word choice of “leaped” is an unusual but an effective way to describe the object. The saw is almost like a savage animal: it understood the calling of the meal and struck the boy’s arm thinking it was its prey. In the end it was all determined by fate, if the boy was not called at that precise moment he might have lived. The actual disaster is not described in great detail:
“but the hand!”
This is the first time we are told any information regarding the accident. The lack of detail suggest it is too tragic and gory to even consider describing. We are only told he tried to keep “the life from spilling”. This use of metonymy is extremely effective as it shows the severity of the boy’s accident. His life is spilling along with the blood from his veins. As he held his hand “half in appeal” we know he urgently needs medical attention as his life is progressively ending at this point. The immediate reaction from the boy was a “rueful laugh”, a laugh of embarrassment and regret. Frost’s word choice of “rueful” suggests the idea that the boy now knows he was not paying attention to his work and he will have to live with the consequences of this. “Since he was old enough to know” what was happening he did not even have the comfort of ignorance, the poet contrasts this by once again reiterating his youth to create pity in the reader. As the initial shock wears off the child begins to picture his life without this essential limb and then:
“The boy saw all-”
This effectively describes the boy’s realisation of how serious his injury is. The dash creates a pause reflecting the boy actually stopping and thinking of how he may not have his hand any longer. The severity of this catastrophe proves that life can at any point crumble away, leaving nothing.
The penultimate lines of the poem tell of the attempts to save the boy’s life and the reaction from the surrounding spectators. Frost creates a blunt, matter of fact tone when he tells us:
“the doctor put him in the dark of ether”
A metaphor is used to describe him being made unconscious by the influence of gas, with the word “dark” suggesting he is slipping away into his death. As we read on it is evident he may not pull through as “he lay and puffed his lips out with his breath”, he is distinctly struggling to breathe and as his state worsens Frost’s use of sentence structure vividly describes his death:
In his use of punctuation the dashes imitate his fading heartbeat : each brief pause reflecting the rhythm of his slowing pulse. The truth is even though we were expecting this incident throughout the poem, we are shocked when it actually takes place, but the reality is everyone has his or her time. We will have our time to leave the world but cannot predict when this will be.
To conclude, by exploring Robert Frost’s “Out, out-“, I found life is fragile and at any point it can be snatched away from us. This is shown through effective imagery and griping tone to tell the story of an unfortunate child having his hand removed by a buzz saw. The poem taught me to life to the full as we only have one chance. We all go at different times and in different, maybe unexpected, so must make the most of the time we have.