Robert Frost’s “Out, Out”

Buzz Saws and Saw Machines

When I first read this poem, barely a teenager, I got it into my head that Frost’s buzz saw was just another word for a chain saw. But chain saws, as we know them, didn’t make it to the general public until the mid 1920s. The types of saws Frost and New England farmer’s were familiar with are scattered throughout the post.

The saw at right is probably very close to the kind of saw Frost was imagining – called a buzz saw. Here’s how it worked: The flat surface that looks like a table slid forward and back on the two rails. The farmer would put the log on the table and push it through the circular saw.

If you look closely, underneath the front left corner, you’ll see a small iron wheel that rides on the rail. Behind the table, another close look will reveal another larger round metal wheel – the pulley. A belt went around this wheel and could be attached to any kind of motor: steam, gas, or even a horse. (By 1910, Ford was already producing and widely selling gas powered traction machines – later called tractors, that could be attached to a buzz saw.) But having both the buzz saw and the early tractor would have been an expensive proposition.

To get a better idea of how these saws worked, here’s an old gas driven rig, the kind that sawyers would have used (expensive in its own day).

Because I don’t see these rigs run anymore, even up here in Vermont, I joined an antique chainsaw forum to get my facts straight. Here’s what Tom Hawkins, a forum member to whom I’m most grateful, had to say:

[The video shows] a single cylinder (or one lunger) type gasoline engines, some of which are known as “Hit & Miss” or “Make & Break” engines. These terms refer to the engine ignition systems where the spark in constantly interrupted to maintain a set or governed engine speed. In some case it is not the spark, but rather the fuel charge that is temporarily interrupted, these are throttle governed engines. Those two engines pictured above are also hopper cooled type engines, where a large case iron tub filled with water surrounds the engines cylinder for cooling. Note it is not steam powered (…) but steam from the coolant that’s seen in the video. The stream is not uncommon for a working engine, and considered as a normal sign of proper engine operating temperatures, they run best when the stream is present.

Since the machines were too expensive for most, farmers and landowners would cut and stack logs during the winter. Later in the spring and summer, (with the wood close to the homestead) the Sawyers could bring their rigs right into the dooryard and cut the wood into “stove length pieces”. These pieces would then have to be split for cook stoves. Once again, here’s Tom:

A farm family would cut down small sized trees (about 9″ at the butt), beginning in the late fall (after the crop harvest) though early spring, dragging the logs over the winters snow was easier than the bare ground. This work had to be completed before the farmers time would be consumed with the springtime task of cultivating his fields. ¶ The firewood was needed for the next winters home heating and cooking supply, the cleared land for expanding their field crops. ¶ The logs were piled close to the wood shed or home for cutting into stove length pieces, then stacked inside for dry storage and winter access. ¶ The farmers would then arrange a time when the sawyer would be available in his area, the sawyers travelled from homestead to homestead doing several cutting jobs before moving on. Many people did however cut their own firewood by hand with an axe and buck saw.

What is clear, in both Frost’s poem and the newspaper clipping that inspired it, is that the saw was machine powered. These are the kinds of machines New Englanders used before the advent of chainsaws. They could be easily moved by a team of oxen or horses wherever the cordwood needed to be bucked. And there was very little in the way of safety.

On the Writing of the Poem

The title of Frost’s poem will immediately remind knowledgeable readers of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The title echoes what are, perhaps, some of the most famous lines in all of Shakespeare:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

The feeling of exhaustion and surrender and life’s futility is palpable. And it warns, all too tragically, of the death (and its tenor) in Frost’s poem. Earlier in the play, and in keeping with Shakespeare’s habit of thought, the doubled combination of out appears in the character of Lady MacBeth.

Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One–two—
why then ’tis time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie!
A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it,
when none can call our power to account? Yet who would
have thought the old man to have had so much blood in

Macbeth Act 5, scene 1, 26–40

Lady Macbeth’s utterance expresses abhorrence – abhorring a deed that cannot be undone, cannot be washed out or slighted. The blood of murder, the spot, has irrevocably stained her hand. Likewise, the boy’s hand, all but severed by the saw, cannot be redone or restored. There will be no backward step.

Shadow Newman on FrostIn her indispensable book on Frost’s most famous poems, Lea Newman observes that Frost based Out, Out on a real incident. She writes:

The March 31, 1910, edition of The Littleton Courier of Littleton, New Hampshire, carried the following story:

Raymond Tracy Fitzgerald, one of the twin sons of Michael G. And Margaret Fitzgerald of Bethlehem, died at his home Thursday afternoon, March 24, as a result of an accident by which one of his hands was badly hurt in a sawing machine. The young man was assisting in sawing up some wood in his own dooryard with a sawing machine and accidentally hit the loose pulley, causing the saw to descend upon his hand, cutting and lacerating it badly. Raymond was taken into the house and a physician was immediately summoned, but he died very suddenly from the effects of the shock, which produced heart failure… {March 31, 1910]

I can’t recommend Newman’s book enough. Clicking on the image will take you to and the book will take to her more detailed introduction. Buzzsaw & TractorBriefly, as part of her introduction, Newman mentions that Frost didn’t write Out, Out until his return from England, the summer of 1915. She writes that, “he bought a farm outside the village of Sugar Hill, near the Lynches, with a view overlooking the five peaks of the Franconia Range(…) It overlooked five mountain ranges to the west toward Vermont, the same view described in the poem.” He wrote the poem in 1916.

The newspaper clipping doesn’t call the saw a buzz saw but a saw machine. In 1910, the terms saw machine could refer to just about any saw (including circular saws).

Note: The tractor at left is a Farmall from the 1930s.The Howell Drag Saw Machine

However, I’ve noticed that a machine called a drag saw was almost always referred to as a saw machine (when circular saws sometimes weren’t).

The illustration at right comes from the Encyclopedia of American farm implements & antiques. The motor (which could have been just about anything – including an animal) driving the drag saw isn’t in the illustration. To truly appreciate how these machines worked, I’ve found a youtube video of a steam driven drag saw machine. Notice that the saw hangs from a pulley (as well as in the illustration). Now imagine if the pulley was hanging loose or unsecured (or the rope of the pulley) and that someone accidentally bumped the rope or pulley. The blade might suddenly release. If the machine was running, imagine the damage to ones hand.

The Scansion

Now to the poem. Without further ado, here is the poem and it’s scansion. All unmarked feet are Iambic. Pyrrhic feet are yellow. Trochaic feet are red. Spondaic feet are purple. Green indicates a feminine ending. Blue indicates an anapestic foot. The colorized scansion is my own invention and I try to keep the colors consistent throughout my scansions. As far as I know, this little innovation is all my own. The colors, to my eyes, help to quickly visualize the Frost’s metrical patterning, his use of variant feet. If scansion and its symbols are new to you, visit What is Iambic Pentameter (The Basics).

A scansion of Robert Frost's Out, Out

Meter and Meaning

The very first thing to note is that the poem is written in unrhymed Iambic Pentameter, otherwise known as blank verse.

The second thing to note is that the repetition of a Pyhrric foot followed by a Spondee is one of the more interesting patterns in this poem. While I don’t think repeating the figure is, in and of itself, significant, each individual occurrence nicely underpins the text of the poem. While it might be too much to say that every one of Frost’s variant feet are meaningful, he certainly was aware of when he was varying the iambic pattern and the effect it would have.

First Lines Metrical Example

These are strongly varied lines. The second of the three has only one Iambic Foot. All the rest are variant. Frost must have liked the effect of the trochaic dust in the first line. The snarling, rattling saw made dust (where the word dust disrupts the normal metrical pattern. This foot is followed by the spondaic dropped stove. Here too, the meter nicely emphasizes the dropping of the stove length sticks with two consecutively stressed syllables. Did Frost plan this all out? I don’t know, but in this line at least meaning and meter work well together.

Sears & Roebuck Circular Saw Machine Ad 1897I chose to read the first foot of the second line as spondaic. However, one could also read it as Iambic and I have a hunch that Frost read it this way. (Frost usually emphasized the iambic pattern of his poems when reading.) The second line would then read as follows:

Sweet-scen | ted stuff | when the | breeze drew | across it.

The real virtuoso display comes with the phrase “when the breeze drew across it“. To my ears, the pyrrhic foot followed by the spondaic “breeze drew” nicely mimics the rise and draw of a breeze followed by its “fall” in the feminine ending: across it. It’s a lovely touch and I suspect Frost was aware of the effect.

The third line could also be read as iambic pentameter, thus:

And from | there those | that lif | ted eyes | could count

I could imagine Frost reading it like this but I haven’t found a recording. It’s said that Frost rarely read it. I’m guessing that he felt the poem ought to be more private than public, having been based on real events. The next lines that give a nice metrical example also both demonstrate a repeated pattern of thought in this poem, the pyrrhic foot followed by a spondaic foot.

And the Saw Snarled - Metrical Example

Note: For those readers and poets who really enjoy understanding how the minds of poets (and by extension all of us) work, there’s a fascinating little book by Edward A. Armstrong called Shakespeare’s Imagination. Armstrong traces what he calls image clusters in the works of Shakespeare. Swing Saw AdvertIn other words, when a goose shows up in Shakespeare’s imagery, the bird is usually associated with disease, lechery and even the plague. Likewise, when Shakespeare is reminded of a violet, his thoughts almost invariably turn to breath, which becomes wind, sweet airs and even tempests. Not only Armstrong, but other Shakespearean authors have noticed, if in passing, these same habits of thought. Caroline Spurgeon, in Shakespeare’s Imagery, notes similar patterns, including Shakespeare’s negative association with dogs. M.M. Mahood, in Shakespeare’s Wordplay , observes patterns of wordplay. When one word shows up, another associated word will usually show up with it. The reason I mention it is because I’ve noticed similar habits in the writing of meter. In any given poem or stage in a poet’s career, certain variant feet will show up and in habitual combinations. Compare the hard Iambic regularity of Mending Wall with Birches. The varying use of meter in all these poems certainly reflects on the intent and mood of the poem, but I also wonder if it reflects on the poet’s state of mind.

Back to Out, Out. Everyone who has heard a chainsaw knows how the engine revs and rattles. The two lines above, to my ears, capture that sound. The pyrrhic foot followed by the doubly stressed spondaic foot and the amphibrach (feminine ending) all contribute to a kind of metrical onomatopoeia: and the saw snarledand rattled/ as it ran light. By no means does every variant foot feel so nicely wedded to meaning, but Frost, like all great metrical poets, knows how to take advantage of the art when the opportunity arises. Mediocre poets will frequently dilute the power of such variations by introducing them meaninglessly and even contrary to the textual meaning.

All spoiled

The disruptive spondee |Don’t let| disrupts the iambic pattern – a kind of shock and outcry both textually and metrically.

The hand was gone

With this line the blank verse pattern breaks down. There are two ways to scan this line. Above, I’ve scanned the line as an Iambic Tetrameter line with a spondaic first foot and a feminine ending. It’s a nice little trick of meter. The hand is missing and a metrical foot is missing. With an Iambic Tetrameter scansion, the meter neatly reinforces the meaning of the text. Something is missing. The experienced reader of metrical poetry may subliminally or consciously sense the missing foot in the poem. The effect can be powerful, causing both the reader and the listener to pause, to palpably sense an absence. The line is the turning point of the poem.

Another way to scan the line (and the two ways of scanning the line are not mutually exclusive, though that may sound odd) is to treat the first two syllables as monosyllabic feet.

The hand was gone (monosyllabic feet)

Many, if not most, poets and metrists claim that monosyllabic feet don’t exist. I don’t agree. Metrical Art with ShadowI go along with George T. Wright, author of Shakespeare’s Metrical Art. He writes:

Occasional lines appear to be missing an unstressed syllable in some other position than at line -beginning or after a midline break. Anomalous lines of this kind appear in some early plays, sometimes (as in the work of Shakespeare’s predecessors) without notable expressive effect. But as Shakespeare develops the technique in his middle and later plays, it becomes a deliberate device for conveying emotional excitement. All of the following lines appear to involve a foot-long monosyllable intended to be spoken with great force or weight [The following is the second of the two examples Wright offers p. 178]:

King Lear Monosyllabic Feet

In like manner, I’ve read Frost’s So and But as monosyllabic feet. (This makes the line a five foot line.) While the variant feet don’t convey emotional excitement, they do convey a profound emotional turning point in the poem. I imagine the intonation as profoundly sad – a kind of tragic acknowledgment. The words could be spoken slowly with a generous pause – a tragic acceptance (though there are other equally powerful ways to read the poem).

Whether one reads the line as Pentameter or Tetrameter, the effect of both scansions can be felt simultaneously. And this is partly what scansion can do. It demonstrates the different ways readers and poets are affected by speech stress and rhythm in language, and sometimes there is more than one way to scan a line.

The final lines worth considering is the following:

Little, less, nothing

It’s the second line that’s especially noteworthy – a trochaic foot (the heart skips a beat), a spondaic foot (the last two heartbeats) and a pyrrhic foot (then nothing, no stresses, no beats). The boy dies. …such is Frost’s mastery of meter. I give him this one. I think he knew very well how he was playing the meter with the meaning. It’s an effect free verse can approximate, but can’t equal.

The Storyteller

A comparison of the newspaper clipping with Frost’s poem shows a number of changes. He changed the young man to a boy; and Frost clearly means for us to think the boy is more child than man – calling him “a child at heart”. If only given the newspaper clipping, I think most readers would imagine someone in his early to mid teens, rather than a “boy”.

Frost doesn’t want the reader to think this was simply carelessness – a young man who should have known better.

This was a boy, a child at heart, who didn’t know better. Frost suggests where the real responsibility rested: Call it a day, I wish they might have said. They, presumably, are the boy’s elders. Some critics and readers have read, in the poem’s closing lines, a cold callousness. Homemade Swing Saw (Side View)But if the narrator is assumed to be Frost, then there is also compassion and empathy in these lines. Frost possessed strong political opinions. And though his poetry is not overtly political, his philosophical and political views inevitably informed his poetry. Artists can’t escape their personalities (or at least I’m not aware of any).

Note: The saw at left is called a swing saw or swing saw machine. The swing saw in the image is homemade but is representative of the kind of saw that turn-of-the-century word workers would have been familiar with. (Cross-cut saws and chop saws would eventually replace them.) Notice how the saw is hanging like a pendulum. The weight of the circular saw blade (and assembly) were usually counterbalanced by another weight – like the “window weights” in old double-hung windows. If the counterweight hung from a pulley and someone bumped the weight or pulley, the saw might descend on the users hand. However, these saws were primarily shop saws and wouldn’t have been used in a dooryard for bucking lumber. In my view, a swing saw is probably not what was being referred to as a saw machine.

Some readers and critics have taken Frost’s poem as a criticism of child labor laws. Frost had spent time as an educator and so one might expect his sympathies to be attuned to the young. When Frost wrote the poem child labor was still a pernicious practice. It wasn’t until 1938 that the Federal government regulated child labor in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Frost, by this point, was already in his early sixties.

The other change was from a sawing machine to a buzz saw. Saw machines (like the larger drag saws) were probably less apt to be operated by a single person. The newspaper clipping states that Fitzgerald was assisting someone else (or others). A buzz saw, on the other hand, could easily be used by one person handling smaller logs. The impression Frost gives is of a boy working alone (his sister has to come out to tell him supper is ready). A child working after hours and alone only adds to the feeling, not of carelessness, but of tragedy. Frost additionally resists blaming the boy. He writes that the saw leaped out at the boy’s hand, as if it knew what supper was. The modern reader might wonder how a buzz saw could leap, but here’s Tom Hawkins again:

Now I’ve run many a cordwood saws in my life, so I kinda understand that poem a bit. Those old one lunger type gasoline engines had counterweighted flywheels to keep up their momentum as they were running, this caused the saw rig to bounce somewhat. The engines also had a make and break ignition, spark on and off as engine needed to maintain it’s governed speed, so as a new charged fired the whole unit would jump. ¶ I remember that when were cutting real dried out Oak or more so Locust (very hard wood), a large cloud of sawdust would surround an encompass us. ¶ It’s very possible that the saw did leap right out and take the hand, these type of saws really do jump, especially when their slowing to a stop, which appear to be the case here. The jump or leaping is caused by those counterweighted flywheels rotating at lower than normal balance speed.

Was it the boy? Was it the saw? Did the “boy give the hand”? It was fate. These things simply happen. The effect is to express the inexplicable.

Frost and the Poem’s Reception

As I’ve mentioned already, many of Frost’s readers were perplexed by the seeming callousness and indifference of the poem. Consider, as well, the reference of the poem’s title.

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Is this how readers are to understand the boy’s death? – as signifying nothing? Other words and images occur in Frost’s poem that may or may not have their source in Shakespeare’s passage. Consider these lines:

all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

Then consider how dust appears within the first lines of Frost’s poem:

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust…

And the saw does just that. The buzz saw turns the boy’s own life to dust. It makes dust both literally and symbolically. And the poem, like Shakespeare’s soliloquy, closes with the word nothing.

They listened at his heart.
Little — less — nothing!

Just as with the poor fool, the actor who frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more, so too is the boy’s heart “heard no more”.

Belief & UncertaintyRobert Pack, one of the only authors to offer a detailed analysis of the poem, writes in Belief and Uncertainty in the Poetry of Robert Frost:

The poem’s narrative arc is of dust returning to “dusty death” (Shakespeare’s phrase), although the narrator and reader are at first misled by the sweet-scented odor of the cut wood in the breeze. The narrator, along with those other would-be believers who have lifted eyes, appears to be enjoying a vision of great depth into nature itself — “the Five mountain ranges one behind the other / Under the sunset, far into Vermont” — as if nature were beautiful and benign, a spectacle of Wordsworthian and biblical revelation. But the narrator will subsequently realize that he has had, rather, a vision of nature’s beautiful indifference. [p. 158-159]

Pack calls the poem a confrontation with nothingness. And the feeling of nothingness and utilitarian purpose is only emphasized by the choice of words that close the poem, “no more to build on there“. This was more than the loss of a child. The work of building, of preparing for the season, the next season and the years to come never stopped. Frost’s words are hard. What had to be considered was not just the loss of a child but what the child contributed. Life in New England, at the turn of the century, was not easy. The response to the poem, among some of Frost’s closest readers and associates, seems to have put Frost on the defensive. Pack quotes a passage from a letter that may capture some of that defensiveness:

“And I suppose I am a brute in that my nature refuses to carry sympathy to the point of going crazy just because someone else goes crazy, or of dying just because someone else dies.” [p. 160]

Though Pack calls this passage “revealing” he doesn’t indicate why (or if) he thinks Frost was referring specifically to Out, Out. This sort of “hard pragmatism” can also be found in Home Burial. But even more revealing than this brief passage is the poem The Lesson for Today. As with the poem For Once, Then, Something, Frost seems to be responding to his critics, readers and even, perhaps, to his closest friends and family – acquaintances who may have accused Frost, himself, of that same hard callousness.

Major Themes of RFWe are all doomed to broken-off careers,
And so’s the nation, so’s the total race.
The earth itself is liable to that fate
Of meaninglessly being broken off.
(And hence so many literary tears
At which my inclination is to scoff.)
I may have wept that any should have died
Or missed their chance, or not have been their best,
Or been their riches, fame, or love denied;
On me as much as any is the jest.
I take my incompleteness with the rest.
God bless himself can no one else be blessed.

O hold your doctrine of Memento Mori.
And were an epitaph to be my story
I’d have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

Radcliffe Squires, who also noted the relationship between this poem and the poem Out, Out, comments:

What matters is that [Robert Frost] could hold together in one poem the two severe and mutually accusing ideas that one must be moved to pity and compassion and that one must coldly and sternly pursue the duty of endurance and survival.

The beauty of the poem, and it’s powerful effect on the reader, arises from the balance Frost obtains. The accident is both carelessness, “the boy gave the hand” and accident “the saw leaped”. The narrator is both compassionate, “call it a day I wish they might have said”, and coldly pragmatic, “since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs”. The narrator is almost like nature itself – the passionate and dispassionate observer – that leaves us, the readers, to wonder at its design and purpose. That’s the best kind of poetry.

23 responses

  1. Great read, Patrick. Robert Frost has always intrigued me. He definitely had a gift for meter as well as for capturing the human within nature and the nature within man. I guess that’s why has been so endeared to a general readership.

    I’d like to see you include a full poems in your commentary without the benefit of your scansion notes. While the notes help me see your points more clearly, I find them a bit distracting in reading the poem, which I like to do after reading your commentary so that I can get the full effect of the poet’s point.

    Another job well done. Yours is certainly a top-notch blog on formalism and full of great insight.


  2. The poet Frederick Turner likens good poetry to a blaze. If you are in the wild, where do you put a blaze? In the place you know? What’s the point? That’s the world we already know. In the place you don’t know? Why make a blaze when you are already lost? No,a blaze must be made on the very edge of the known, so you can venture out from there, into the known, without becoming lost. A good poem is one that acts as a blaze, opening up a new world to the reader, while keeping them within sight of known territory. Poets like Ashbury are out in the wilderness, lost. Nobody knows where they are. Halmark cards are well within the known. But great poets — including popular ones, as people love to be challenged, but not made to feel stupid or lost — all write on the edge. They are the trail blazers.


    • That’s an interesting analogy – one I’ve never heard before. I suppose that everyone has a different definition of what makes a good poem. I try to be somewhat scientific about it. To me, the poem that the most readers read and return to is a good poem. If one of my own poems fails in this regard, then it means that my poem isn’t as good as I thought it was.

      I don’t know if the same has been true in poetry, but there was a stretch in modern “classical” music when the audience’s approval was regarded as a defect. In other words, these artists decided that the less “successful” their works were, the more successful they were. That’s a phenomenally convenient definition of greatness. By that standard, all of us chumps on the web are heartbreaking geniuses.


    • I think many of the modernists in the early 20th century prided themselves in being difficult and inaccessible. And so a low public esteem would be explained as “They don’t understand me”. In fact, afaik, this is still the case in many art forms.
      Btw, thanks for a fantastic page! Just discovered it, and can’t get enough! I so enjoy the thorough scansions & commentaries! Really… Wow.


  3. Pingback: How Significant Is

  4. Pingback: the Annotated Home Burial • Lines 71-106 « PoemShape

  5. This is a great piece of work. I believe this poem is significantly connected to Frost’s (more famous) “Home Burial.” In both poems, family (-or in the case of “Home Burial” the husband-) are fictively represented as having this callous attitude you mentioned to the death of a child. Frost grappled with the concept of the “morally correct way” to grieve for death, as is clear in him presenting “Home Burial” not from the husband’s point-of-view (which is said to represent Frost), but rather from the perspective of the wife, Amy, who is clearly representative of Frost’s wife. Amy presents a different, more encompassing way of grieving in the poem, a position which Frost himself apparently greatly considered.


    • Amy presents a different, more encompassing way of grieving in the poem, a position which Frost himself apparently greatly considered.

      I’m not convinced that Amy’s grief was “more encompassing”. At least that’s not the way I read Home Burial. That said, I think Frost was careful enough to allow for such a reading.

      Although he portrays the husband as the more simplistic and plodding, Frost also gives the husband the more figurative and metaphorical (poetic) mind. Amy is quicker, but less able to see beyond the literal and more narrowly minded.

      I think you’re absolutely right that Frost struggled with “morally correct way”.


    • I am not sure I agree that the husband is the more “simplistic” or “plodding.” I think he is just more pragmatic about his circumstances. Perhaps he felt as though he had to conform to the typical gender roles of that society-be the strong one, the “man”, able to bear his pain and push on. This seems to fit well with what I previously mentioned about Frost pondering the “morally correct” way to mourn, and thus wrote “Home Burial” from the perspective of the wife and not his own perspective. It seems likely that he sympathized with Amy’s way of mourning (indulging in self-pity, wallowing, being over-sentimental, etc), but realized the societal preordination in showing grief would not allow for him to appear as the “weaker one” in his expression of grief.
      Additionally, I don’t perceive Amy as narrow-minded? Where do you see that?


    • My observations are drawn from my post on Home Burial. Rather than re-explain myself, you might find the post interesting. Look here.

      Saying that the husband is plodding or simplistic is based, in part, on the meter and the husband’s word choice. And Amy isn’t so much narrow-minded, as narrowly minded. She seems incapable of appreciating the husband’s more metaphorical acknowledgment of their son’s death. But read the post. Even if you don’t agree with some of it, you’ll better understand some of my perspective?


  6. Wow! This was a pleasure. I’m going to use it with my students to show them how one can do his/her own analysis. Thanks!


  7. Guilty – by Portia Belmont

    Robert Frost’s, “Out…Out” has an alarming ending when a boy dies from heart failure after losing his hand to a buzz saw. After an examination of politics and the allusion “Out –Out”” to the play Macbeth, one sees the theme of guilt is a driving force behind this chilling poem. The lack of compassion of the bystanders to the boy’s death is parallel to Macbeth’s lack of compassion to Lady Macbeth’s death shown in the soliloquy in Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28


    To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
    To the last syllable of recorded time;
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    The theme of man’s inhumanity to man is not pronounced in the political poem, “Out..Out” until the last lines, “No more to build on there. And they, since they/Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs”.

    The poem was written in 1914 while Frost lived on a farm in Vermont. Frost was born and raised in the bustle of San Francisco. His literary ambition took him to London, England where he skyrocketed to fame. After World War I took its grip on England, Frost decided he would settle, (in every poet’s dream), on a farm in the idyllic pastoral setting of Vermont.On the contrary, like the poem, the politics of 1914 did not paint the perfect farm life. True in the poem we visualize the “five mountain ranges” and smell” sweet-scented breeze” but we are also assaulted by the sound of the tiresome, “snarling buzz saw” and “dust”. Furthermore, farm living demands hard, physical labor from all including the young and innocent, “a child a heart”. In comparison, the United States was acting as a ‘child at heart” declaring neutrality against World War I that “spilled the blood” of thousands in Western and Eastern Europe. Could the buzz saw represent the noise and dust that World War brought to the attention of working class Americans? Americans who could not “lift up their eyes” as they were too busy just trying to survive, “Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

    In the United States while commercialism and industrialism brought riches to the capitalist empire they also brought death and suffering to the modern worker. Industrialization brought machines like the ‘buzz saw” that promised to increase production not worrying that these machines, “snarled and rattled” against overworked children and adults. Donelle notes that the saw as a representation of the technology overpowering rural life, “refers to the profound threat to humanity by the mechanized world” (Dreese).Child labor laws were not enacted until twenty-five years after this poem was written so it is no wonder that the onlookers had no choice but to “ turn[ed] to their affairs”. The Progressive Era under Theodore Roosevelt sought to expose cruel and unnatural working conditions but progress took time and World War I was screaming, “Don’t let him, sister!”

    Were there too many things happening at once in the world of politics that innocent young lives were being lost? Were the parents so busy that the children were neglected? And the question of guilt, the other allusion being to Lady Macbeth’s damn spot, “Out..Out”. Can the guilt be erased? If no one takes responsibility then no one needs to “do guilt”. The parents, the powers that be, the politicians and religious leaders are too overwhelmed with other issues to spend time crying over the spilled blood. “…other “affairs” to turn to, it is also a condemnation, with no separation between the behavior of relatives and strangers” (Kushner). No one wishes to take the blame for a child’s life being lost in work or battle.

    Yet the boy with his “rueful laugh” knows that he is nothing if he cannot be useful and contribute to society. The child knows that his life as a laborer requires two hands and with only one hand remaining he has no reason to live. Macbeth said it best when he heard of Lady Macbeth’s death and described life as futility nothing more than a “poor player”. The cruelty of the human heart, injustices to man are not that relevant if we consider life meaningless “no more to build on there”. Macbeth’s wife in her insanity and later death who once had the ambition of jointly ruling Scotland is a worthless piece of dust.

    The saw has created the dust from dead wood and the saw has created the dust from the dead human, both being of equal worthlessness. Frost, like Shakespeare sees the futility of life and the minor role man plays on the stage of war, politics and power. Money, machines and cheap labor on the other hand are major players in humankind’s lust for greed.

    Works Cited

    Dreese, Donelle N. “Robert Frost.” Twentieth-Century American Nature Poets. Ed. J. Scott Bryson and Roger Thompson. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 342. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 July 2011.

    Kushner, Aviya. “Overview of ‘Out, Out–‘.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Michael L. LaBlanc. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 July 2011.

    Moran, Daniel. “Overview of ‘Out, Out–‘.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Michael L. LaBlanc. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 July 2011.

    Wiles, Bill. “Overview of ‘Out, Out–‘.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Michael L. LaBlanc. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 July 2011.


    • This is a great addition to the post. Thank you. My question: I wasn’t certain, but is this your work? If it is, please say so and would you consider posting some more? If not, let’s be sure it’s properly credited.


    • Yes I will keep posting but it takes me 20 hours to write a short piece like this and that does not include any of the research .Upinvermont your work is amazing and inspiring.It would take me a month at least to compose something of that depth!


    • It gets easier and easier. In highschool a ten page paper might as well have been War & Peace. The funny thing was that I detested writing research papers and essays. Now look at me. I’ve joined the sith.


  8. Thanks a lot im actually studying this poem for my igcse exam in London and your information gave me a better understanding of this poem.


  9. Do you have a copy or access to the original newspaper clipping? I’m teaching this poem to my American Literature students and a standard that is sometimes difficult to address is one about how an author uses source material. Here is a perfect opportunity to show students how Frost use a different genre – newspaper article – and transformed it. I’d be a great help if you could help direct me to finding that article (if even possible!) Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: