Saturday, November 19, 2011

Third Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge

Bill West at West in New England is hosting his Third Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge. The challenge is to:
Find a poem by a local poet, famous or obscure, from the region one of your ancestors lived in. It can be about an historical event, a legend, a person, or even about some place (like a river) or a local animal. It can even be a poem you or one of your ancestors have written! Or if you prefer, post the lyrics of a song or a link to a video of someone performing the song.

My paternal great-grandfather Ambrose Martindale managed and owned sawmills in Missouri and Texas. For this year’s challenge, I have selected a poem not written by an ancestor nor by a poet from the area in which my ancestors lived. It does, however, express the often-tragic experiences of those who worked in the mills.

The poem is "Out, Out" by Robert Frost. The text of the poem is below, or you can listen to this reading:

Out, Out
by 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 behing 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 him in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if it meant to prove saws know 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!
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 was spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off -
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. 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 a fright.
No one believed. They listened to 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.

© 2011 Denise Spurlock


  1. Oh! I did not expect that ending! But I must thank you for sharing this poem, Denise. It does tell of the dangers and the life of the saw mill worker.


  2. It is a startling ending. My family did not experience anything as tragic as this young man losing his life, but my great-grandfather did lose a couple fingers. The lumber industry remains one of the most dangerous.

  3. Denise, besides the fingers missing on both my grandfather's hands, a great granduncle on another side of my Dad's family died after somehow stepping on a sawblade. I'm glad my Dad decided to stay in the city after WW2. Thanks for sharing a poem by one of my favorite poets!