“Out Out!” Robert Frost
I. Subject Matter – Context and Background
This poem is a dramatic monologue relating the incidents of a young boy spending the day doing a man’s job of cutting firewood. The recreation of a scene of a bizarre accident through both description and narrative, where a mechanical saw viciously cuts off a boy’s hand and he dies.
Read the poem aloud. Comment on the Sound Effects, verbal music. It’s rhyme. Rhythm and melody. Assonance, alliteration. onomatopoeia. etc. (Blending repetition patterns. slow/fast movement, harsh, discordant, sibilance, sotto, allegro, Rhapsodic, lyrical, elegiac, upbeat, blue, staccato, dirge, ode, Melody. tone. mood. atmosphere. voice.
This is a noisy poem with lots action and a fateful catastrophic event. It changes moods rapidly from a peaceful non-expectancy to exquisite delight of the setting to relief at the end of a working day, to fear, disbelief and finally ephemeral concern to a final apathy/stoicism. It is the abruptness of the contrasting shifting moods that evokes our reactions and the fickleness of the participants “turning".
Onomatopoeia: buzz saw snarled and rattled.
Alliteration: there those that lifted eyes could count five mountain ranges
sweet scented stuff
Tone: There is a tonal irony, where the narrative is told in a matter of fact, low-key, detached and accepting manner, while our emotional response is just the opposite. A form of Bathos.
IlI. Themes, concerns, issues - values
- The brevity of life; not only fleeting and precarious, - like a candle in the wind, it is easily snuffed. Life is so unpredictable.
- The apparent callousness of the onlookers, “who because they were not the ones dead, turned to their affairs”. We soon move on; our memories are short and we become inured to human suffering. Our apparent indifference may be the result of compassion fatigue.
Suffering may be universal and significant, however it takes place in very ordinary conditions and in unprepossessing circumstances. Despite failure or loss, we need to move on and affirm life.
Like Yeats or Auden, Frost depicts the tragedy of suffering in life and history, yet he does so in a detached alienated (Brechtian), matter of fact manner without comment or empathy. As in his other poems he depersonalises people and transforms them into bizarre extensions of objects. Is he suggesting we have become an uncaring society?
- Uncertainty and unpredictability of life. None of us know when we might suddenly cark it. Death can be so sudden, senseless and meaningless.
- Tragic waste of youth; human potential; “no more to build on there”.
- Death: Throughout history, our shifting attitudes toward death have become evident through literature. Death can be seen as our ultimate defeat in life.
DEATH is the final reality of human life, and not just for the banal reason that we are all destined to die in the end but, more importantly, because the finiteness and vulnerability of our existence in this world is what gives urgency, meaning and even nobility to human life.
Homer saw this, in The Iliad, with a burning clarity. Mortality is what lends poignancy to our experience, gravity to our moral choices. His heroes love life strength and beauty, but their duty, their noble rank, and the position in which fate has placed them leaves them no noble choice but to face death with the courage befitting a warrior. CHRISTOPHER ALLEN
It was European Medieval Christianity that depreciated the value of our earthly life, placating the masses with promises of eternal bliss in a heaven paved with gold – the more you suffer on earth’s pilgrimage, the better your heavenly reward. An excellent ploy, by the rich and mighty, to rationalise the disparity of wealth.
Horace had given rise to the Carpe Diem philosophy, not reborn until 19th C. Europe. As capitalism distributed wealth more evenly, people began to demand not only more political power but a comfortable lifestyle putting more emphasis on heaven on earth than a delayed reward.
Death had a more immediate presence in the past than in today’s sanitised sheltered times. With public executions - decapitation of traitors, heads spiked on London Bridge, burnings at the stakes, dismemberment of bodies, people were more exposed to the grim gruesome realities of prevalent death. Fifteen thousand people died in London during the plague in London and each morning a mortuary cart would pass down the streets calling for people to bring out your dead to be flung and piled upon each other for mass immolations. No wonder they were inured and brutalised but also pre-occupied by death.
In contrast we are cushioned and protected from seeing dead bodies to preserve their dignity. Most people have rarely see a dead body as it is usually covered by a sheet or body bag, coffins draped with shrouds are seldom opened for viewings. George W Bush’s administration even banned the televising of coffins of returning dead from the Iraq war.
Structure: linear, circular, episodic, flash backs, climactic. Images: (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory) figures of speech: similes, metaphors, personification, analogy, synecdoche, contrast, antithesis, unity, irony, Allusions, etc
Visual: Five mountain ranges for those who look up.
Olfactory: sweet scented stuff
Auditory: Buzz saw snarled and rattled
Allusion: After MacBeth hears the news of his wife's death he understands that he is alone; no one is beside him and that life is short and full of illusions.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
to the last syllable of records time;
and all our yesterdays have lighted fools,
the way to dust death.
Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow,
a poor player that struts and frets his hours upon stage
and then is heard no more .
It is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
The above passage has provided writers with numerous allusive titles for books including; The Way to Dusty Death, The Sound and the Fury, .........
Metonomy: To stop the life from spilling
Hand repeated five times so it accumulates a significant emphasis.
Personification: The saw becomes animated, represented by the buzzing, snarling and rattling. It also leaped, or seemed to leap
Approach: Subjective/Objective, Attitude or Tone, Audience, Style: diction, word play, puns, connotative/denotative, emotive (coloured biased,) /demotive, (technical, dispassionate) clichés, proverbial, idiomatic, expressive, flat, Jargon, euphemisms, pejorative, oxymoron. Gender biases. Register: formal, stiff, dignified or Colloquial; relaxed, conversational, inclusive, friendly or Slang; colourful, intimate, Rhetorical devices; Questions, exclamations, cumulation, crescendo, inversion, bathos, repetition, 3 cornered phrases.
Colloquial and local idiomatic expressions transformed into poetry.
Call it a day ,
His sister stood beside him in her apron
To tell him ‘supper’.
Don’t let him cut my hand off,
The doctor when he comes. Don’t let him sister.
Style: Simple, direct and blunt. The impersonal narrator suggests elliptically rather than explicitly with expressions that break the flow of thought; the heavy pauses and inadequate facts force the reader to fill in their own impressions.
Oxymoron: rueful laugh
Understatement – Bathos Little, less, nothing! – and that ended it.
Irony – sarcasm or stoicism? And they, since they
were not dead, turned to their affairs.
Note - not returned – but a more deliberate “turned”
Repetition: The repetition of “snarled and rattled” creates the impression of a long and tedious day.
“hand” is repeated five times signifying its importance in farm work; a farm hand, essential for his existence. He is no longer useful – He saw all spoiled”.
They or there is repeated four times. “They”, is not us; it is the others who are cold, callous, unsympathetic…
Anonymity: The persona or addressor is present creating immediacy, yet anonymous. The “they, them, their : could be family, relatives, friends, neighbours..
Contrast/Juxtaposition: The idyllic, rustic scenery with the five mountain ranges, and sweet scented stuff with the jarring discordant and disharmony represented by the buzzing, snarling and rattling of the mechanical saw.
Caring or empathy with the precipitous manner in which they turned to their affairs.
A representative poem that derives its appeal due to the death of a young man and its gravitas from the allusion to MacBeth’s Soliloquy.
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