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Monday, May 14, 2018

'Out, Out-' - Robert Frost

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 behind him 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.
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.










From time to time, I like to remind myself that poetry can be truly awful.  Not awful in the sense that it is poorly written, or low quality, but awful in the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking sense, like this Robert Frost poem.  There's little for me to explain.  Frost uses plain English, and starkly little in the way of poetic technique to tell the gruesome, awful tale of a boy who loses his hand, and his life, to a buzz saw.  A boy too young to rightly be called a man, so precisely described as "big boy, /Doing a man's work, though a child at heart."

What stands out, apart from the truly terrible story at the heart of this poem, is the specificity of detail within.  From the number of mountains, to the size and smell of the planks of wood being cut, the account is vivid in the extreme.  Who among us who has seen tragedy has not had the specifics of the scene burned into their minds?  For my parents' generation, everyone remembers where they were when they heard that JFK had been assassinated.  For my generation, everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001.  So it is with this poem. 

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