‘Out, Out’ by Robert Frost
Show how Robert Frost effectively reveals the fragility of life in the poem, ‘Out, Out’. You may wish to consider setting, imagery, tone and the ending.
In his poem, ‘Out, Out’, Robert Frost effectively reveals the fragility of life. The themes of sudden death and child labour help to make this a very sad and shocking narrative poem. The title alludes to Macbeth’s poignant speech on hearing of the unexpected passing of his wife, with the metaphor, ‘Out, out, brief candle’. This reflects the tragedy of the accidental death of a child doing a man’s job. Frost’s use of setting, imagery, and tone create a moving poem with a shocking ending.
The peaceful setting of the farmyard is deceptive as it is situated within view of the scenic ‘Five mountain ranges one behind the other/Under the sunset far into Vermont’. This calm tone conveys the impression of a safe, quiet, rural spot away from the noise and bustle of the city. Here the senses of sight, smell and touch are evoked as the ‘dust’ from the cut wood was ‘Sweet-scented ...when the breeze drew across’ the yard. However, the workers, including a boy whose age and name remain unknown to the reader, are too engrossed in their chores to appreciate the surrounding natural beauty. In contrast the tone of the opening line is ominous as the imagery of the buzz-saw is very menacing. Frost’s word choice compares it to a predatory animal while the poet develops the metaphor to personify this powerful tool:
‘The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard….
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light , or had to bear a load.’
The onomatopoeic sounds of ‘snarled’ and ‘rattled’ plus the repetition and rhythm give it a mechanical effect making it appear that this saw has a mind of its own. I thought this was very realistic and had a chilling effect as it was juxtaposed with the setting, a place where ironically , the boy should be safe.
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