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09 July 2011

Frequently the woods are pink —

Frequently the woods are pink —
Frequently are brown.
Frequently the hills undress
Behind my native town.
Oft a head is crested
I was wont to see —
And as oft a cranny
Where it used to be —
And the Earth — they tell me
On it's Axis turned!
Wonderful Rotation —
By but 
twelve performed!

                                                              J6,  Fr 24 (1858)

Dickinson catalogs the seasons here: the pink woods of spring, the brown of winter, the gradual undressing of leaves and flowers of fall, and the fully crested trees of summer (contrasted with the more bare branches--a cranny--of winter). She playfully anthropomorphises them, with the hills shyly undressing behind town and with trees boasting a full crest of hair.
    In the last line she pointedly italicizes "twelve," drawing our attention to it. Literally, she is saying, Look how economical and marvelous it is to have such changes all transpire within a twelve-month rotation of the earth. But she and her peers would have recognized twelve as the number of Christ's disciples who, after the crucifixion went about performing miracles. They healed the sick, typically. The implied contrast is decidedly in favor of Nature.
     All but one line are written in trochees which gives the poem a lovely positive emphasis. The three repetitions of "Frequently" that begin the poem give an almost perky sound with their long 'free' sounds, and this contributes to the playful tone. 


  1. Before the the 1800s, "it's" was the possessive form of "it". By the 19th century the preferred possessive form of "it" was "its". However, ED used "it's" interchangeably as a contraction and as a possessive, e.g., 'On it's Axis turned' (Franklin 1999). Dickinson was a century behind the times, perhaps intentionally as a protest of modernity.

    Franklin, R.W. 1999. The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Harvard University Press.

  2. Susan K nailed it. Every year, year in and year out, Earth performs the miracles of spring, summer, fall, and winter in only 12 months. The 12 disciples did each of their miracles only once.

  3. ED’s manuscript copy for the last page of Fascicle 1 includes both F24 (Variant 2) and F25. Uncharacteristically, she does not draw a line between the two poems in the fascicle manuscript, which would normally suggest they are two stanzas of one poem. However, she gave Susan D a copy of F24 (Variant 1) that does not include F25, so they are two poems, as their unrelated topics suggest.

    Incidentally, in both manuscripts of F24, the crowning flourishes of the three capital Fs of “Frequently” extend far to the right, covering more than half the letters in the words, confirming Susan K’s closing comment on the importance of ED's repetitions.