Search This Blog

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Number 93: Robert Frost "Out, Out..."

Out, Out--

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart—
He saw all spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off—
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

-- Robert Frost

Hap Notes: I'm sad to say this poem is probably based on a true story about the son of one of Frost's neighbors. The boy was cutting wood, was cut by the saw, bled profusely, went into shock and died, The incident is true but, of course, Frost gives it a different viewpoint to contemplate. The poem has a similar tone to yesterday's Auden poem, does it not?

Frost's title comes from Shakespeare's play Macbeth. Here's a bit of it:

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.

This particular passage in Shakespeare has inspired a great many titles for plays and poems, probably most notably Faulkner's book "The Sound and the Fury" where the first parts of the book are narrated by three brothers, one of whom is mentally impaired. However, the character in the book one thinks of as an "idiot" is up for interpretation. Exposing a bit of Frost's salty, sly humor, think for a moment on who is telling us this tale.

Frost, however, is masterful at narration. He gives us particulars that make the scene vivid- the saw leaping at the hand ("as if to prove saws knew what supper meant"). How many times have people recreated the scene of an accident with "If only"- if only the boy had been given some time to play instead of having to do a "man's work."

You don't need any help with this poem, I don't think. Just remember that Frost isn't saying something particularly harsh about the boy's family at the end of the poem- he's saying something about the living and the dead.

Here's where we first mentioned Frost:

No comments:

Post a Comment