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.


  1. In this context, the noun “affair” refers to the activities or business, whether professional or personal, that people were engaged in before the accident. The speaker’s tone is neutral, rather than disapproving, in suggesting that the others are heartless or selfish; instead, they are portrayed as simply pragmatic and productive. Frost seems to suggest that tragedy is an inevitable part of life and that life must move on.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. This line is an example of an asyndeton, a device in which coordinating conjunctions like “and,” “or,” or “but” are excluded from a line of verse. Here, the words “little,” “less,” and “nothing” are not connected by coordinating conjunctions; instead, they are separated by caesurae in the form of em dashes (—). The asyndeton, particularly in combination with the caesurae, creates a distinct disruption in the poem’s rhythm that seems to mimic the slowing of the boy’s heartbeat.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. “Ether” is a type of highly flammable liquid anesthesia that was used during surgeries beginning in the 1840s. Ether can be vaporized into a gas that, while blocking pain, does not always result in loss of consciousness. Though the speaker suggests that ether causes the boy to become unconscious, it is possible that the darkness is actually death approaching.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Blood is both a symbolic and a literal representation of the life that the boy is about to lose; symbolic, in that it is not literal life that flows from his body, and literal, in that he may die from blood loss. Frost’s use of figurative language here indicates the futility of the boy’s efforts to save himself.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The adjective “rueful” refers to an expression of sorrow or regret, but it connotes wryness or humor. The speaker indicates that the boy’s laugh is perhaps one of shocked disbelief—for, despite the danger of the “man’s work” he has been made to do, he is still a child. Frost’s word choice invites readers to empathize with the boy as he processes what has taken place, therefore rendering his plight all the more upsetting.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Following the speaker’s anthropomorphizing the saw, he questions the saw’s agency. Now, the speaker imagines that the boy “must have given the hand.” By shifting responsibility for the tragedy from the saw back to the boy, and then refusing to state definitively where the blame lies, Frost perhaps suggests that it is unwise to cast blame, because accidents happen.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Line seventeen includes alliteration, or the repetition of consonant sounds. By repeating the soft consonant sound “h” in the words “he,” “have,” “hand,” and “however,” Frost varies the poem’s rhythm, which is further disrupted by the caesura (.) and the end-stop of the line, which concludes with a comma. Readers are thus encouraged to slow down and pay attention to the details of the scene.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Frost employs assonance, or the repetition of vowel sounds, in this line. The repetition of the “ee” sound in the words “leaped,” “seemed,” and “leap” slows down the rhythm of the line—and the action of the scene—by drawing out the auditory quality of the words. As a result, readers are drawn into the boy’s horrific experience as it unfolds.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The repetition of the verb “to leap” not only places emphasis on the detailed imagery of the scene, but also highlights the speaker’s sudden reluctance to continue anthropomorphizing the saw that “leaped out at the boy’s hand.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Frost uses anthropomorphism, or the attribution of human-like behavior to nonhuman things, in his characterization of the saw. Like a villain, the saw leaps out and severs the boy’s hand “as if to prove saws knew what supper meant.” By anthropomorphizing the saw, Frost provides readers with something—or someone—to blame for the boy’s fatal mishap. However, the comfort of a clear distinction between good—the boy—and evil—the saw—quickly erodes as the poem progresses.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Lines ten and eleven are enjambed, which means that the sentence that begins in line ten continues through two line breaks and into line twelve. Enjambment speeds up the rhythm of the verse and intensifies the suspense that has been building from the beginning of the poem.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. The comma that interrupts line seven is a caesura, or a pause within a line of verse that is often generated by punctuation. Here, the caesura calls attention to the repetition of “snarled and rattled,” which increases the poem’s foreboding tone.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Frost makes liberal use of sibilance, or the repetition of words containing the consonant “s” sound, in these lines. In saying aloud the words “stove,” “sticks,” “sweet,” “scented,” “stuff,” and “across,” readers emit a hissing sound that lends a musical quality to the words while creating suspense. Further, sibilance can slow down the reading process, so that readers are encouraged to focus on the poem’s vivid details.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. Line three is an end-stopped line, or a line of verse that ends with some form of punctuation—in this case, a period. The pause encouraged by the end-stopped line encourages readers to reflect upon the sinister visual and sonic imagery introduced in the first line.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff