“OUT, OUT – -” by Robert Frost is a poem which I found compelling and sad. It is written with a tone that lacks sentiment or apology, although the main theme of the poem is the death of childhood innocence. The subject of the poem is very engrossing as it tells the story of what happens if a boy is left to do a man’s job. Frost achieved this by using personification, symbolism, expert word choice, extremely vivid imagery, cleverly placed punctuation and an interesting title to make this poem vividly alive for me. The subject of the poem is also very engrossing as it tells the story of what happens if a boy is left to do a man’s job. All of these techniques have helped me to see the death of a young child in a different light.

The personification used in this poem is very unusual and engaging. One of the best examples of personification is:

“And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,”

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This quotation gives the reader the first impression that the ‘buzz saw’ has animal qualities and that something bad is about to happen. It is also a use of onomatopoeia, which clearly describes the sudden, dramatic sounds that the ‘saw’ made just like an animal. The ‘snarled’ suggests a lion, and ‘rattled’ suggests a rattlesnake, both of which are able to attack and kill humans.

The poet appears to blame the ‘saw’ for the death of the boy by animating it with the menacing snarl of a lion and as the warning rattle of a snake; but these are only poetic devices and the saw is only a machine. Also both of these animals are able to pounce on humans, therefore giving the impression the ‘saw’ made the first move and grabbed the boys hand before he had time to react and defend himself.

The best example of advanced personification is:

“… the saw

As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,

Leaped out at the boys hand …”

This is extremely clever as it gives the reader the impression of a hungry animal. ‘Leaped’ is a movement of aggression that an animal would make as if it was lying, in waiting for the chance to pounce on its prey.

The symbolism used in this poem is of exceptionally good quality, and gives the reader a clear image of what the writer is trying to say. I believe the ‘buzz saw’ is representative of the emotionless and unforgiving nature of the child slavery system that exploited children. This is exceptionally good symbolism as the ‘saw’ churned out standard sized block after block of wood. This means that many children were put to work in jobs they should not be doing and when they die another child is there to take their place.

Another two techniques, which made the poem extremely colourful, are the very effective and expertly used world choice and vivid imagery:

“Then the boy saw all … He saw all spoiled.”

This quotation is very cleverly used as the boy was “old enough to know” perhaps that his injury would seriously diminish or ‘spoil’ his value as a labour. It is also provocative to the reader because if you spoil something, it is ruined forever and you cannot get it back, just like the child’s life.

Another good example of expert word choice is the closing of the poem:

“… And since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

Here Frost uses the irony to illustrate the futility of the “affairs” of the doctor – the real loss of the boy does not matter to watchers since he was no value to them to them. The irony is portrayed through an excellent illustration of expert word choice as it tells the reader that the doctor had tried his best to save the boy but there was nothing more he or the watchers could do but go back to work.

The expert word choice in gives the reader a felling of a lack of passion in phrases like “that ended it” and “no more to build on there” create a felling of failure of an unsuccessful search for a blame worthy cause.

Finally another example is:

“…big boy

Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart – -”

The poem says that the boy is “a child at heart”: maybe he saw his freedom and youth running away with the blood pouring from his wound. He also probably never had much of a childhood, working all the time and he would be imagining what might have been.

The punctuation is cleverly placed and following no particular pattern, he uses commas and full stops freely. Frost uses commas and full stops freely. The poet uses an exclamation mark after:

“Don’t let him, sister!”

This is effective as the reader gets the feeling of the shock and agony that the boy is feeling since it is very personalised. There is also an air of sadness to this line as if the boy already knows that he has or will lose his hand.

There is also an exclamation mark after:


This adds emphasis to the fact that the boy is dead – there is no out put of blood from his heart.

Frost also uses dashes to great effect here:

“Little – – less – – nothing!”

The dashes add emphasis to the line, making it stand out from the others as everything happens so quickly but appears to be in slow motion. They also add a feeling if suspense and anticipation to the line as the reader is left waiting to find out if he will live or die. It also depicts the slowing of his heartbeat away to “nothing”.

The title is very interesting as it is a Shakespearian reference to Mac Beth since nothing else in the poem means or symbolises “Out, Out – “. It is a very effective metaphor, which compares the flame of a candle, to a human life. It says that the light has gone out very suddenly and the boy’s life has ended before it should have. It also reminds you for just how precious life is.

At the end, the poet seems to blame the family and doctor for turning to their affairs. Earlier, the poet seems to blame the family for not giving the boy time to play, but an accident can happen at any time.

In conclusion I found “OUT, OUT – -” by Robert Frost a very interesting but sad poem. It helped me to see the death of a child in a different light. It dealt with childhood innocence and used many poetic techniques to show what happens when you lose it.


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