0006. Emily Dickinson's "Frequently the woods are pink"

Updated on December 24, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Dickinson's Titles

* Emily Dickinson did not provide titles to her 1,775 poems; therefore, each poem's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel:

"When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text."

APA does not address this issue.

* The numbers included with the Dickinsonian titles refer to the number of each poem from Thomas H. Johnson's The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Frequently the woods are pink —"

Emily Dickinson's "Frequently the woods are pink" plays out in three quatrains. Each quatrain presents a unique movement of the poem's theme which sets out to reveal a changing landscape from spring to winter.

The unfortunate error in terminology may likely be excused. The terms "rotation" and "revolution" for the movement of the Earth have become interchangeable in modern parlance, and Dickinson's poem seems to reveal that the same interchangeable usage was in effect in her day and age.

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 its Axis turned!
Wonderful Rotation!
By but twelve performed!

Reading of "Frequently the woods are pink"

Commentary

First Movement: The Colorful Changing Woods

Frequently the woods are pink —
Frequently are brown.
Frequently the hills undress
Behind my native town.

The speaker in Dickinson's "Frequently the woods are pink" begins by reporting that often the woods behind where she lives look pink, which, no doubt, indicates spring with trees that open up in the springtime into blossoms and then moving into summer replace the blossoms with leaves.

Then later the leaves turn brown, and after they leave the trees, that is, the trees "undress" in autumn, they reveal further brown because only the trees trunks and naked branches are visible.

Second Movement: The Head of a Bird

Oft a head is crested
I was wont to see —
And as oft a cranny
Where it used to be —

The speaker reveals that she has frequently observed a bird's head as she peered into the frequently changing woods. But then later when she looked, she could detect merely a "cranny" or empty space where that bird's head had been appearing. The word "crested" identifies the head as bird's head without the speaker having the employ the word, bird.

The word, "cranny," indicates how small a space the head of a bird would have occupied. The report of the viewing a bird's head and then viewing its former space moves the poem's theme from merely a seasons poem. The speaker could likely observe birds in the woods anytime of year.

Third Movement: Changing of the Seasons

And the Earth — they tell me —
On its Axis turned!
Wonderful Rotation!
By but twelve performed!

In the final movement, the speaker reports the reason for the change in her view, particularly the fact that at times the woods are pink and at other times brown: the Earth has moved through the year changing seasons as it goes; it has revolved around the Sun and completed one revolution, which causes certain areas of the Earth to experience changing landscape.

The speaker is in awe of this marvelous change as the Earth has turned, "On its Axis." She calls this turn "wonderful." And then she claims that only "twelve" had performed this wonderful feat. Of course, those twelve are the twelve months of the year—through that twelve-month period, she has been given the gift of observing a changing landscape that thrills her adventurous soul.

Regarding the scientific error: The Earth rotates on its axis once in 24 hours; it revolves around the Sun once in 12 months. Thus, to be scientifically factual the "Wonderful Rotation!" should be "Wonderful Revolution!" Interestingly, the term "revolution" here in conjunction with "wonderful" might sound political in nature. It is quite possible that Dickinson was satisfied with a slight scientific error to avoid the possibility of being misconstrued.

"By but twelve performed!"

The poem features only twelve lines which probably gave Dickinson great pleasure as she had her speaker quip in the final line of the poem, "By but twelve performed!" Of course, the speaker is referring to twelve months or perhaps twelve signs of the zodiac, but the fact that she has accomplished her little journey around the sun in twelves line likely gave her a bit of joyful mirth.

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