‘Out, Out’ by Robert Frost

This is the first thing I thought of. Technically, it is a narrative poem, but it feels like a short story. It unfolds fluently, with an unforced ease, and turns on a perfect note of shock. It’s brief, and spare in terms of any real detail, but it contains a whole life in one moment, and ever since I first read it in my early twenties, it’s lingered somewhere deep in my chest. Life has never felt so fragile as this.

First published in McClure’s, July 1916, then collected in Mountain Interval, 1916. Available online via The Poetry Foundation