Friday, May 4, 2012

Out, Out

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This poem remarks on the cold indifference the world displays toward the meaningful events of men’s lives. The underlying message of Out, Out states that, however great an impact an event may have on a man’s life, individual human affairs are insignificant to the rest of the world. Looking at the big picture, nature and the remainder of mankind are unaffected by the happenings of a single life.


The setting of the poem is Vermont, or somewhere near, in a yard where people are working and a boy is chopping stove wood with a buzz-saw. The speaker describes the buzz-saw as one would describe an angry dog in a metal box snarling and rattling. Then the scenery is described�from the “sweet-scented breeze” to the five mountain ranges under the setting sun in Vermont, great serenity and majesty is portrayed. Then the focus is reverted to the buzz-saw, which is continuing to emit harsh, animal-like noises. The speaker points out that the day is merely spending itself; nothing actually happens. He or she hopes that an anonymous party referred to as “they” will announce the end of the day, or at least give them a 0-minute break. For the first time, the boy of the poem is referred to, and the speaker wishes for the break for the boy’s sake. Then, as the boy’s sister calls everyone to supper, the buzz-saw in the boy’s hand jumps out and cuts his hand off. The boy cries out, and then holds up his mangled hand to the other workers, knowing that he would have to have it cut off. He is old enough to know this; “he is a big boy doing a man’s work,” even though he is still very young in his heart. He pleads to his sister not to let the doctor cut off his hand, but the hand is already beyond all hope of salvaging. On arrival, the doctor drugs the boy to ease the pain, but as he slips into unconsciousness, his breath leaves his body. At this, the watcher who is monitoring his pulse panics. The speaker expresses the collective disbelief of all the people in the yard that the boy is dying, but they listen to his heart, which slowly fades away into nothing. The others return indifferently to their own business because they are not the ones who have just died.


It is unclear who the speaker exactly is. There is also a constant reference to a third party, or actually, a third group of people “they.” This makes the setting also unclear, but it is presumably some sort of work yard where there are at least three people the boy, his sister, and the speaker. The speaker could be the mother or father of the children because of his or her longing for a break for the child’s sake. However, it is safest to assume that the speaker is yet another worker in the yard and most likely is a man because of the chopping and physical nature of the work. The tone of the poem fluctuates from a sense of action and matter-of-factness, to a calm superior attitude, then back to the action and urgency of the beginning, and then once again to the state of serene indifference. Overall, there is a feeling that no matter how active and important a situation seems, it doesn’t really matter because there is always something bigger and more important, like nature. There’s a little bit of a cynical attitude, like nothing humans do can ever be important enough to shake the calm, majestic mountains. The beginning has this busy image of a noisy, angry buzz-saw that is at work, but it is interrupted with the sudden descriptions of an almost lazy landscape. This is also interrupted suddenly with, “And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled.” The repetition of this phrase for the third time gives a sense of relentlessness, almost a whiny quality, like a child nagging at a parent in the hopes of receiving more attention. But then shortly after, there is emptiness again “And nothing happened…” The continual interruptions that emphasize the uneventfulness of the situation can be taken as claims that no one actually cares what happens, least of all the powers of nature. Major events in a man’s life are so insignificant to the elements of nature. Take this boy’s situation, for instance. He was merely doing his daily routine work, when the saw jumped up and chopped off his hand, an event which eventually leads to the boy’s agonizing, tragic death. The saw is personified to animate the scene even more, leaping out of the boy’s hand and slyly “knowing” that the boy was momentarily distracted by the call for supper. And even with the pitiful, dramatic pleading of the boy to his sister not to have his hand cut off, in the end, no one cares that he dies. They all return to their lives, not even showing any appreciation for the fact that they are still alive; they don’t care that the boy died, and it makes no difference to them whatsoever. And the whole time there is the serene backdrop of the breeze going across the mountains in the light of the setting sun in Vermont, unchanging and unaffected.


The author made use of many literary devices to liven up his poem. Personification, for example, was used several times in reference to the saw it snarled, it knew the meaning of supper, and it leaped out of the boy’s hands. There is also a lot of imagery in this poem. The descriptions in this poem appeal mostly to one’s sense of sight and touch. The description of the scenery put a cool, calm picture in my head, while the saw leaping out of the boy’s hand and meeting it made me cringe. I could actually feel my skin crawling, especially when the boy held his hand up, “half as if to keep the life from spilling.” I could see the blood dripping from the mangled stump, and my entire body tingled from the gruesomeness of it. Last, but not least, is the blaring allusion in the title, “Out, Out.” Taken straight from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this phrase is spoken by Macbeth in reference to a candle’s short lifespan. He states that men are put on the earth, they live their shorts lives, then they are extinguished like a candle flame that goes “out, out.” Likewise, in this poem, no matter how eventful a life is, it always has the same end result an insignificant, unnoticed death.


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