A Comparison Between “Out, Out” by Robert Frost and “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen


“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more”. Undeniably this bittersweet reference from Shakespeare’s Macbeth that illustrates the image of a wavering candle light that is fragile and brief also brings to mind the spirit of life, which at the same time is also brief in addition to easily snatched away. “Out, out" is a poem by Robert Frost whom tells the tale of a young boy that has lost his life under and unfortunate circumstance. In comparison, “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen depicts a man that has left part of his existence in war. Both poems assert ideas that insinuate brevity along with fragility of both characters in the poem, in addition to the essence that life will go on, that a singular life such as those of the characters are insignificant on a universal scale as when the young soldier from “Disabled” returned from war he is shunned and forgotten and the boy from “Out, out” where the people around him moved on even when he had just died.


We sympathize for the characters for different reasons. An example of which would be for ‘Disabled’ pathos is enunciated by the loss of the soldiers legs and the dramatic transition of his life ‘before’ and ‘after’, on the other hand pathos in ‘Out out’ is reinforced by the desperation the boy has to live along with the grotesque imagery and the fact that the boy has experienced a hard life. Both are really tragic in means of how pathos is thus generated.


“Out, out” exemplifies how a young boy’s life comes to an ill-fated endue to an accident concerning a buzz saw which severs his hand off – a loss of life and the human condition which corresponds to “Disabled” describes the experiences of a soldier who was come back from war but as a social outcast due to his immobility – he lost his youth which is the prime of his life, his human condition. However, both poems show similarity in the fact that both personas have lost a vital part of their body which; in a sense completes them physically and mentally. Additionally the fact that these body parts are important towards their work and their social life without either a heavy impact is placed upon them. Ultimately the personas life and livelihood has been affected in ‘Disabled’, furthermore how in a sense the incident has killed him on the inside yet he still has to live with the emotional scars – Owen uses irony as he indicates that the persona himself “threw away” his legs merely because of foolish reasons to enlist which now leaves him “legless” and “sewn short at elbow” clarifying his disabilities. Whereas in contrast with ‘Out, Out!’ in which the boy has died because of shock in which the human condition that encompasses his experience as a living being had been stripped away from him – he had lost his mortal entities.


Starting of the poem Owen suggests the feeling of pathos with a solemn, depressing and gloomy atmosphere of “boys voices” that “rang saddening like a hymn” whilst the persona himself “shivered in his ghastly suit of grey”. Owen also evokes this pathos by generating compassion and sympathy towards the persona by contrasting life before and after the war. In addition, he blends in the idea that war is ignoble as Owen contrasts the preconceptions of war the persona had initially through listing the “jewelled hilts for daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes – Esprit de corps” to further signify that war is the opposite of the initial thought. Pathos is also accentuated through the realization of the persona that the persona himself had “threw away his knees” – which indicates that he is responsible and he knows it and is living with this awful heartbreaking realization. Owen’s ‘Disabled’, similar to Frost’s ‘Out Out’ also plays out the theme of regret but it is clearly more frequent than in ‘Out Out’. In ‘Disabled’ Owen portrays the character’s regret by mainly contrasting ‘before’ and ‘after’ of the person’s life. Nonetheless the regret that is shown in the poem is primarily how the character is disappointed with himself for bringing upon his current situation – he regrets the foolish reasons that made him join war, regrets how he tried to impress the “giddy jilts” the girls of low value instead of sincerely assessing the value of his own life. What is really powerful is how the persona lists all his reasons and thoughts on war – some he could not even remember clearly as he “wonders why he asked to join” proving to himself that his reasons were foolish and insignificant to the extent that it places no special place in his memories. In the passage there are a lot of pauses to slow down the extract contrasting with how before enlisting he took things too fast and was too hasty which conveys that as he has now mentally aged, he has regrets as he has time to think over – the emptiness spurs up pathos within the readers.


In addition to how he “poured it down shell holes till veins ran dry” - “it” being his liveliness and his “colour” – the youth of his prime which as Owen describes “half his life” had been wasted in the “hot race” which now the persona has to spend “a few sick years in institutes, isolated from the community and that of his past. A further sense of pathos is also generated by the treatment that the persona receives from his peers and community as well as how this had contrast with how he was treated before when he was young and popular and although the persona is still young, mentally he has aged as he has been through mass trauma as we learn from the fact that Owen states “Now, he is old - He’s lost his colour very far from here - and half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race and leap of purple spurted from his thigh”. Stanza three paints a grotesque image nonetheless – there is further evidence that not only has the persona aged mentally as mentioned before but he has also aged physically as “his back will never brace”, another condition for the elderly. The irony that he did this to himself makes this even more tragic in a sense that he did this to himself leaving us to pity this soul whom was responsible of the loss of his vivacity.


In opposition Frost constructs the key emotion, pathos by simply conveying the fact that the boy in the poem is just a ‘boy’ who is condemned in a sense to do a “man’s work” – a labour intensive work in the mills. Because the persona is literally young, the readers are overwhelmed with an image that not only is a child missing out on childhood he had wasted his youth on labour when he should be savouring his brief childhood. Because of this pity for the boy  due to the fact that he does not possess this flare of youth reinforces pathos within the passage through simply the characterization of the persona. Another exemplar of how pathos is created is when the boy had cut of his hand with the buzz saw “his first outcry was a rueful laugh” which indicates the obvious fact that he is in pain but also a sense in which he is in shock and bewilderment which may lead to the stage in which we feel sympathy for him. In addition the boy holds up his hand “half in appeal but half as if to keep the life from spilling” which makes it all the more tragic because the boy is appealing to us as readers but at the same time he is desperately clinging on to his life, he’s trying to prevent his blood from spilling and to prevent his death. Frost makes it seem as though the boy is appealing to the readers for help – appealing for life even. Furthermore prior to this the phrase “saw all” near the end of the poem is very powerful as there is suddenly an awful moment of realization that all is ruined that washes over the boy.


Moreover the pace of the poem is hastened to form a feeling of panic that the boy is overcome with as he shouts “Don’t let him cut my hand off – The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!” the speech itself implores directly to the reader as a desperate plea as it is a direct speech. Furthermore we get the impression that there is so much panic and pain as the unusual syntax is used to show that nothing is coming out right. Additionally the frequent of which speeds up the pace keeps the flow of the context concise and exciting. Standing out from the boy’s speech are the words “doctor” and “sister” because not only are they nouns but they are only polysyllabic words. This generates a premonition and a sense of foreboding that the boy may very well lose life in addition to the desperate pleading atmosphere that is created in the midst of the beautiful mountains of Vermont which is a contrast of setting – peaceful serenity against painful, desperate commotion of the boy.


Nevertheless Frost crafts a sense of poignant melancholy sadness through a sense of the boy’s loss of innocence at an early age as he has to carry out labor intensive work which this regret will also emphasize pathos. “The boy counts so much when saved from work” conveys that the boy has lost so much not to mention has so much to lose; family, youth was no a main part of his dismal life, he misses out on the beautiful nature in Vermont – Frost contrasts this by describing the sunsets and the mountains etc. However there is also a thought of possibility– “the sunset far into Vermont” having the emphasis on “far” therefore indicates that although this beautiful lasting scene will go on and on is a vista of potential that the boy could go a long way – the sun stretches into the horizons and so could the boy in a sense, and because there is the inclusion of the essence of time, Frost forebodes that time is reaching the end as the sunset reaches the horizon . Regret – another source of this sadness shown in ‘Out Out’ is mainly depicted in the last half of the poem when the boy had just cut of his hand – there is a moment of terrible realization as the boy gave a “rueful laugh”, which indicates the sense of chaos and confusion, thus we are made to pity the boy. What Frost creates is the regret that the boy has missed out on his childhood, his youth however the boy does not show this as much as the persona whom sympathizes with the boy which we know that the persona wanted to “call it a day, I wish they might have said, to please the boy”, the persona had witnessed the boy’s life therefore is regretful that nobody gave the boy a break, no one wanted to “please the boy by giving him the half hour”.  Because of this the regret enhances this idea of the boy’s loss of youth through his absence of the human condition, even before death his life was not that of a young child.


Thus in both poems brevity and fragility of life as well as in a sense the delicateness of youth itself is emphasized through how both of the characters are young, and have been through obstacles that have made them lose their innocence and either age in a mental way or loses life itself, but contrasts in a way that in one poem life is taken away whilst on the other hand in the other poem life becomes a painfully long episode. In ‘Disabled’ the character of course would be older than in ‘Out Out’ but he has aged because of war, and in ‘Out, Out’ Frost describes how the boy was “old enough to know, big boy doing a man’s work, though a child at heart” which contradicts ‘Disabled’ by using the phrase “big boy” to emphasize childishness (the boy is young) and to show that youth, which is bright and special is gone, the boy’s youth has been sullied. His youth was taken away; how his life was taken away at the end of the day.


Equally Owen also creates a feeling of this melancholy sadness however through the fact that because war ignoble as it is depressing because the character had distorted image of patriotism. In the first stanza most of this melancholy mood is enhanced by the description of how the character waited for the dark and “shivered in his ghastly suit of grey” which reinforces an emptiness as though there is nothing left for him in life and for this he is depressed. Additionally the phrase “waiting for dark” suggests that he is waiting for night and there is a cyclical emptiness about the phrase which strongly evokes pathos in a sense that the persona has lost his meaning in life and the will to live life as its fullest.


Nevertheless in ‘Out, Out’ Frost indicates a sense of brevity and fragility of life through the sense of finality is articulated as “sunset far into Vermont”. Frost mentions “nothing happened: the day was all but done” with the use of colon to show a routine closure pause to hint that in life there should be control but realistically there isn’t which throughout the whole poem it is the only involvement of the person through direct speech creating a more personal impression to make the death seem personal. Contradictory to the beginning of the poem when Frost was describing Vermont and the routine work of the workers, the climax of them poem destroys this ‘routine’ (use of polysydeton) it abruptly causes a commotion as the saw “leaped out at the boy’s hand” and takes away the boy’s life. Also taking notice of the title in which Frost has chosen for the poem that has been stimulated by Macbeth’s speech further stresses this idea of how life, like a flame on a candle can easily be extinguished, both brief, fragile and will soon come to its end just as how the boy’s life has.


However in Disabled this theme is not very clear, the true quintessence of this would rather about how he had risked his life and was so close to losing this fragile life in war as “half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race” as well injuries and wounds that “spurted from his thigh” – reinforcing how war is ignoble as it strips away life, tears away your soul, things that are important to you and things that complete you. The last stanza in particular shows how he will have to live his life in hospitals – this is a sad and dismal life, a long and monotonous one which on another note contrasts with ‘Out Out’ in the sense that it is a long journey to death for the character who awaits death itself – for the character, he will have to live with himself for an elongated period, there is a sense that he is waiting in vain, he is mourning over his losses in a sense – he still has his life but his lifetime deems not as significant as his youth.


The most striking element in both poems is the essence as to how life indefinitely goes on, no life as indicated is more important than the other. Frost effectively expresses the essence that life will go on and how a single life in insignificant towards a universal scale by using a neutral tone to describe how the boy has died. More significantly what highlights this is the line “little – less – nothing! – and that ended it” in which the word “it” signifies indifference, there is an insignificance in human life. Furthermore the fact that after the boy had died, even if he were young his life was insignificant and meaningless even to those who had worked with him as there was “no more to build on there” and because the workers weren’t the ones that had died they returned to their work ignoring the boy. To lead up to this Frost uses the word “so.” With a full stop to show that the helpless passionate pleas is stopped, there is no effect of the plea and there is a moment of sinking in – a sense of helplessness – a crashing anti climax as if to say life ended even though at this point the boy was still alive, its already gone but the passage continues just as others too will continue with their lives.  The poem also shows signs of existentialism, as there is no after-life for the boy, his plea was not answered, life moves on without him – god cannot save him or rather does not exist thus cannot help him. Additionally in the start of the poem everything was normal/routine but the boy dies at the end of the day – this makes it seem insignificant as people die every day, his life is just as significant as everyone else – nothing special.


On the other hand the matter of how life is insignificant in ‘Disabled’ is once again illustrated through the use of ‘before’ and ‘after’ when the character reminisces he faces his painful memories of when before he joined war he was a popular football player in high school whom at the time would have thought that he was significant, important and perhaps ‘the centre of the universe’ however this concept is shattered when after the war he realizes how he is insignificant, how no one cares. Although this is mostly because his physical appearance has changed the fact that the final stanzas state how he waits to be put to bed makes him seem solitary, alone, uncared for. The lines “How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come and put him into bed? Why don’t they come?” makes him seem desperate, as though he is asking us but in fact is asking himself in a state of frustration – he waits for human interaction, there is nothing for him to fill his life with and in a sense he is somewhat waiting for death. Owen states that the character will have to “spend a few sick years in Institutes”; there is now a plan for his life, a plan in which someone else had come up with.


In conclusion, because as Macbeth says that a candle signifies life which is brief and fragile, one should cherish life as to live it to its fullest in contrary the fact that although a singular life is insignificant on a universal scale, what matters most is that to fight for life just as the boy in “Out, out” is much more precious than to waste it away and to later regret as the persona in “Disabled”. Although the two poems revolve around the two characters, the human condition that is present in the characters is to either be stripped from them or to slowly lose meaning. Mortal entity is fragile, one should live life to the maximum.