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“Out, Out”‘ is about childhood in rural New England. It shows how children had to work in the late 1800s and early 1900s when Robert Frost was a young boy. The poem illustrates a negative image of growing up in the rural life of New England. It demonstrates how quickly and unexpectedly death can happen, but, also, the harsh fact that life has to go on. The title of the poem ‘”Out, Out”‘ is a quotation from William Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’. It is taken from Macbeth’s soliloquy after his wife (Lady Macbeth) kills herself, and he reflects on the brevity and pointlessness of life: ‘Out, out, brief candle!’
It is significant to this poem because Frost is also reflecting on the futility and shortness of life through the loss and the innocence of the child, which is illustrated through the emergency and alarm in the boy’s pointless plea: ‘Don’t let him cut my hand off-‘ The poem is written in blank verse, using the iambic pentameter of ten syllables per line to imitate in the natural rhythm of speech. At the beginning of the poem Frost uses personification of the buzz saw to create an effective opening, which is furthered by the unpleasant sounds of the onomatopoeic snarling and rattling – giving the buzz saw a frightening image, and creating a vivid negative representation of rural life in New England. Frost contrasts this first impression with the imagery of ‘sweet scented stuff’ that is blown by the breeze, and his ironic statement that ‘nothing happened’, which effectively leaves the reader unprepared for the following events.
Frost dramatically shows how dangerous life working in rural New England can be when the boy has his hand cut of by the saw, which is sinister on its own, but the sombreness of the situation is heightened by the saw being personified even more: ‘… the saw, As if to prove saws knew that supper meant, Leaped out at the boy’s hand’ When the boy’s hand is lost, Frost uses repetition of ‘hand’ to emphasis the hardship of how young children were expected to work from such a young age.
This point of working children is further pointed out when the boy’s work is compared to a man’s: ‘Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart-‘ From this the reader can see how hard life was to grow up in rural New England. As the poem ends, it appears more sinister as Frost reflects on the young boy dying and the pointlessness of life through the illustration of sinister words such as ‘the dark of either’. The dashes create effective pauses as the boy takes his last breath, helping to highlight the hardness of rural life to the reader.
‘Little-less-nothing!-and that ended it.’ The tone of the poem is relaxed and casual in the beginning, but changes after the boy’s sister tells them ‘”Supper.”‘ The tone becomes tenser and appears to be insensitive due to Frost’s bluntness about death. ‘And they, since they Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.’ However, Frost is stating the harsh fact of life – that it has to go on for people to survive, even after a terrible grievance. I think this fact is particularly true for rural life in New England at this time. This is because farms still had to be looked after to ensure the farmer got money to support himself and his family, therefore, they could not afford to stop everything – it was not that they did not care about the death of the young boy. The sinister tone of this poem is contrasted to the more light-hearted poem, ‘Birches’.
Through ‘Birches’, Frost is reminiscence about his childhood and is thinking about a simpler and easier time in his life. The poem outlines the innocence of being a child and illustrates how harsh life can be as an adult. ‘Birches’, like ‘”Out, Out”‘, is written in blank verse, using the iambic pentameter of ten syllables per line to imitate in the natural rhythm of speech. In comparison to the previous poem (‘”Out, Out”‘) ‘Birches’ shows the more positive yet still some negative aspects of life in rural New England. It positively represents a fairly straightforward time for Frost, a time when he was able to conquer the trees: ‘And not one but hung limp, not one was left’ The repetition of ‘not one’ in this quotation emphasises his success in climbing the birch trees. His use of alliteration on the ‘k’ sound helps describe the skill needed to conquer the trees in this way.
Climbing carefully with the same pains you use to fill a cup ‘ In the poem Frost shows how rural life in New England can be lonely for a young boy, which shows a negative aspect to rural life in New England. ‘Some boy too far from town to learn baseball Whose only play was what he found himself’ Furthermore, this vividly shows how rural children were more independent and able to amuse themselves, but it does show how they were very isolated from other children with no-one to play in the birch trees with. For Frost, the birch trees are a way to escape the pressures of being grown up. The poem shows how he is yearning to climb the birch trees once again and metaphorically escape from the earth.
‘I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree’ The poem has a casual tone, just as ‘”Out, Out”‘ but ‘Birches’ maintains this casual and relaxed tone throughout unlike ‘”Out, Out”‘ which changes to a more sinister tone. The tone of ‘Birches’ does become more when Frost personifies fate to misunderstand him: ‘May no fate wilfully misunderstand me’ Although the tone of ‘Birches’ becomes more philosophical it still maintains a casual tone. The casual tone in ‘Birches’ of the poem is captured by the colloquial language that is used.
‘But I was going to say . . .’ After reading and studying both ‘”Out, Out”‘ and ‘Birches’ I prefer ‘Birches’ as I feel it makes rural life in New England more vivid. I think ‘”Out, Out”‘ is a more sinister and negative approach to look upon rural life. But, Frost illustrates a more vivid image through the use of alliteration throughout ‘Birches’ which creates a more real and vivid representation than ‘”Out, Out”‘.