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The poem “Out, out” by Robert Frost is a poem about a young boy who uses a buzz saw. When fate decides the boy’s time is up, the saw cuts the boy’s hand, and the boy slowly dies. The theme of “Out, out”, as well as “Mid Term Break”, is the fragility of life.
“Out, out”, like “Mid-Term Break” focuses on the issue of God’s randomness in choosing who lives and who doesn’t. This fragility is emphasized, as the title of the poem is a line from the play Macbeth, “Out, out brief candle, life is but a walking shadow.” This way of portraying life as a candle, gives the impression that whoever guards this candle could just as easily blow it out, at any time, any place and just as sudden.
The pace of this poem varies from slow and steady at the beginning and then quick in the middle and then back to slow and steady again. At the beginning of the poem, the pace is very slow and gentle as the poet introduces us to the future incident. Once the incident occurs, the pace of the poem dramatically increases. This increase in pace relates to how quickly the incident happened to those people who were observing the accident.
The poem’s tone evolves around acceptance. Unlike in “Mid Term Break”, the poem has no true sadness or funerals, there seems not to be any real emotions shown by other family members. For example, there is no body grieving over the death of this boy. The people who witnessed the accident accepted this accident as they would an earthquake, a natural disaster that can’t be prevented.
In this poem, Robert Frost uses many techniques to describe to us his feelings and emotions on the issue of death; these emotions and techniques can be compared to those of Seamus Heaney in the poem, “Mid Term Break”.
In both “Out, out” and “Mid Term Break”, the poets use candles to symbolise life, although the poets use this symbolism differently. In “Mid Term Break”, Seamus Heaney uses candles to symbolise everlasting life, whereas Robert Frost uses candles to portray the vulnerability of our lives in the title of his poem, “Out, out”.
In the opening part of this poem, the poet uses the technique of onomatopoeia. This means that he uses words that sound like their meanings.
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In the first few sentences of this poem, the poem introduces words that appeal to our senses. For example the line, “Sweet scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.” This sentence appeals to our sight, smell and hearing. Robert Frost does this because he wants these nice calm and gentle words to be in contrast with the threatening and dangerous words like, “Buzz”, “Snarled” and “Rattled”. Each opposite emphasises the other, for example, the evil and threatening sound of the buzzing and snarling is in opposition with the calm and quiet wind blowing over this scene. The reason why Robert Frost does this is because this contrast creates a sense of uncertainty hanging over the poem, creating suspense for his readers, as his readers are uncertain about what is going to happen.
In the opening part of this poem, the poet creates an atmosphere that is similar to a classic horror story’s beginning; a quiet breeze is in contrast with a noisy chain saw, in my mind a classical way to begin a story or a film, if something bad is about to happen. This is the poet’s way of providing his readers with a slight clue that something bad is about to happen. In “Mid Term Break”, Seamus Heaney also provides his readers with clues, the knelling of the bells and the neighbours picking the poet up from school. These clues inform the readers that something is going to happen. This is yet another similarity between these two poems.
In the next few lines of the poem, we find out what time of day it is. “Under the sunset far into Vermont.” We now realise that it is the time of day when the brightness of the day rapidly converts into the dimness of evening. The time of day is very significant in this poem, as the poet wants his readers to know that the accident about to happen, will be done in the dimness and uncertainty of dusk. In the poem “Mid Term Break”, which also features an accident that has occurred, we are also made aware of the time of the day. The two poems differ as “Mid Term Break” is set at two o’clock in the afternoon, which is almost the peak of brightness of every day. In the poem “Mid Term Break”, I feel that the poet felt that no evil consisted in his tragedy, and this may be the reason why his poem is set at two o’clock.
In the next part of the poem, the poet introduces a slight sense of regret:
“Call it a day, I wished they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour.”
The poet may be trying to plead with God by wishing that his tragedy won’t happen, but it is too late, the poet realises that you can’t change fate as the boy faces the last half hour of his life. The poem “Mid Term Break” also features a thought of ‘If only’ similar to this poem. In “Mid Term Break”, the mother of the boy who was killed, “Coughed out angry tearless sighs.” This line gives the readers the impression that the mother is angry with herself, and we presume that she is angry because she wasn’t with the boy when he was killed. She may be thinking to herself, “If only I was with him.”
We have reached the part of the poem where the boy finally experiences his unfortunate incident. The boy is busy working and his sister calls him for “Supper” and he drops the saw, his sister could be held responsible for distracting the boy when he was working, but fate planned it to happen that way, and it did. It is at this point in the poem where the pace increases. This is due to the current events that are taking place. In the this part of the poem, the theme of fate is shown at it’s strongest through the sentence, “However it was, neither refused the meeting.” The key word in this sentence is ‘Refused’. The word refused is a word used when you have declined something and had the chance to accept the offer. In this case the poet says, “Neither refused the meeting.” This shows the lack of control the boy has, this is why this action is refereed to as an accident.
The poet’s portrays to us his image of the aftermath of the accident. The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh.” In my opinion, the reason why the poet describes the boy’s first outcry as being ‘Rueful’ is because the boy didn’t realise the actual damage that the saw did to him. The boy didn’t anticipate that this accident was serious. The boy has yet to realise that there is nothing anyone can do to save him, and his life is over. On the other hand, the boy’s outcry could be interpreted as the complete opposite and the boy may now already realise that he has been extremely careless and is wishing that he had been more careful. He may also be wondering why god has chosen him to die at this moment as he is so young and has the rest of his life left to live. The boy may be grieving over the unfairness of the selection of death.
We now realise that the boy’s hand has been completely sawn off, “As he swung towards them holding up the hand.” This small scene, in my opinion is one that links back to the theme of helplessness, as if you imagine the boy as he turns back to seek pity or aid from the rest of his family and is he is completely helpless. The devil has decided what will happen to this boy and nobody can stop him.
In the next part of the poem, Robert Frost uses metaphors to describe the images of the result of the boy’s accident. “But half as if to keep the life from spilling.” The poet is using this phrase instead of saying “To stop himself from bleeding to death.” Robert Frost does this in order to make the boy’s situation seem more dramatic. The poet uses the word “Life” to symbolise the boy’s blood. In my opinion, the poet is again giving his readers clues as to what may happen later on in the poem as he says, “Life spilling out”. The poet could be saying that the boy’s sole is steadily spilling out to heaven or hell, or it could be simply that he is bleeding to death. This technique of using metaphors to make this scene more dramatic is used in the opposite form in the poem, “Mid Term Break”. The poet uses phrases like “Sorry for your trouble” to drift away from the reality as someone is trying to express their condolences to a boy whose brother has been killed.
In the next sentence of the poem, Robert Frost slows down the pace. “So. But the hand was gone already.” The word ‘So’ in my opinion, represents that it is all over. The poet may be letting his readers know before hand that the young boy will later die from his injury.
The poet then says that, “He saw all spoiled.” In my opinion, I think that the poet is telling his readers that the boy now realises that the end is near. The boy somehow knew that he was going to die in the near future.
Towards the ending of this poem, Robert Frost introduces a mysterious character in to the conclusion of his poem. “And then-the watcher at his pulse took fright.” Robert Frost must have wanted to use this reference of this ‘Watcher’ to represent someone or something. I think that Robert Frost wanted the ‘Watcher’ to represent the Grim Reaper, as he is the enforcer of death. Or the ‘Watcher’ could just represent a person who isn’t dying and isn’t in the same situation as the boy.
In my opinion, “Out, out” and “Mid Term Break” contained many techniques that portray the themes of death and vulnerability of our lives. “Out, out” and “Mid Term Break” are very similar as they sometimes use the similar techniques to describe the contents of the poem. I felt that these poems made me think more about the meaning of our lives and what the consequences of our mistakes or misfortunes can cause.